Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Design Competitions—Sweet Dreams or Nightmares?

One of the benefits of growing older is that you tend to be philosophical about a lesson learned rather than bummed and depressed.

Lately I entered a piece of mine—a necklace I titled ‘Molten’—in a well-known jewelry design competition. There was a hefty entry fee, so I did my homework and viewed the work of previous winners, then decided that I would make an entirely new piece. I planned to incorporate my latest techniques, newest handmade texture plates and work from a total concept so all the elements would enhance and illustrate it. I love volcanoes and the idea of deep processes at work within our planet, so I wanted my polymer elements to reflect those colors and forces. I chose the tektite stones as spacers because they are said to contain microscopic remnants of the meteorites that caused them to form when they hit the Earth.
I happily set to work.
'Molten' - polymer clay, acrylics, Kroma Crackle, tektite stone chips, steel wire

Since my body of work consists mostly of experiments that help me develop my teaching methods, I don’t have a huge resume of past exhibitions for my polymer clay work or wins in other competitions. I’ve mostly chosen to showcase my work in others’ books or in jewelry magazines. I have been, however, included in a few shows and events in past years that will always make me feel like I was a successful artist, from the days when I was doing textiles and pottery. For me, to have the award have any meaning, I have to first respect the work and expertise of the person or organization doing the judging or making the choice to include me.

One thing I’ve learned—it’s a big world out there and if you stay true to yourself and your vision, not everybody will understand or validate it. Primarily, it’s your own self that you have to please. Ask yourself --does this reflect my aesthetic, my ideas, my original thought and concept? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you are a winner, despite what the world says.

Although I was pleased enough with my piece to pay the fee and submit it, I wasn’t chosen for final judging. I wasn’t too surprised—I’m not trendy, my work is complex technically and intellectually and the stories I tell do not resonate with everyone. If I had to exist off the sales of my work, I would probably starve!

But I made the decision many, many years ago to do only one-of-a-kind and that has kept my work fresh and growing. I don’t want to be picked up by a major retailer or make a million of the same piece. I show my esteemed customers respect by making them a singular piece of work each time.

So if you want to compete, just know that acceptance or rejection by others—a competition, a gallery, a website, an exhibition—doesn’t mean anything in the total scheme of the lifetime of your art. It’s art, not sports. The ‘best’ work doesn’t win because there’s no agreed-upon criteria for art that’s as cut-and-dried as who jumps the highest or gets over the finish line first. It’s somewhat subjective when it comes to craftsmanship but very subjective when it comes to choosing ‘best’ over ‘also ran’. The question becomes “what is ‘best’ anyway”?

Enjoy the process, dig deep to express yourself and don’t try to please others—be authentic. Don’t cater to what you think others will like. At the end of the day you will be happier and more self-fulfilled than if you try to please a panel of strangers.