Should You Enter Pay to Play Art Competions?

I once won a $1,000 prize at an art show, and I liked to think that money went a long way in covering the expenses of subsequent competitions. Nevertheless, like many artists, I've wondered over the years whether such competitions are worth the price. As I thumb through my latest copy of Ceramics Monthly, and check out the "call for entries" page, I'm frustrated by the rising cost of entry fees. $45 to enter a show that I may very well not get into, and even if I do, I have to pack my work and pay the shipping expenses. If I don't win a prize or make a sale, is it worth the trouble and expense?

In doing a little research on google, it becomes apparent to me that a lot of artists are struggling with this question.

Some websites and artist's blogs tout the benefits of entering competitions:

"Art competitions can be a great way to develop your confidence, your career, and even your own understanding of your art. They are like stepping stones in your artistic journey. You get a chance to showcase your works in front of an esteemed jury and gain recognition for your talent. Even if you don’t secure a position at a competition, there will be a whole lot to take away from this journey that can help one grow and evolve as an artist."


But then others make the case that the benefits may not outweigh the costs

"How about all this just to enter a competition; six images formatted in a precise way, an application form, an entry form, an artist’s statement, a link to your website, references, a C.V., and of course the aforementioned fee which is non-refundable and payable in advance (PayPal and credit cards accepted)."


Some artists complain about having their work judged:



"Who are they to tell me I'm not worthy of being shown?"

"Some crusty f***-head thinks that what you do is NOT good enough for others to see. This very principle is wrong at the most basic of levels. They ignore what’s going on in the real world and focus on their academic intuition to judge you. That’s not always a smart move. For me that means it’s pre-judged beforehand and that certain types of work will never get accepted as a result. How can that ever move art forward?"

And the inevitable pain of being rejected:

"Then there’s the stress of waiting for the acceptance or rejection correspondence. Have you experienced that? You sit and hope that you will get accepted and then the envelope or email arrives and it’s a no again. How does that make you feel? Personally it’s a stress I can do without."

And most important of all is the question of whether art competitions advance an artist's career:

"Get real. Success with your art will have little to do with what you get from these competitions. Sure they can provide a platform to showcase your amazing work but they can also be very demotivating too. If you’ve been successful in the past then tell me, how has that changed your career today? Have you won a major prize and has that kick-started your career? I would love to hear from you if it has."


But I find myself agreeing the most with the artists who see art competitions as a mixed bag:

From the comments:
"I have been a photographer and artist for over 50 years and in the 60’s and 70’s there was no internet but I did get show calls by mail and entered a number of shows. Sometimes I got in, sometimes not (50% of the time I did which I considered pretty good). Now with the internet there are a flood of shows and contests and you have to be careful what you enter, see what the track record is, who the judges are (their credentials), and judge if these are worthwhile. And finally determine if you can afford it.
You say that what artists really want is to sell their art but there is the step before that which is getting attention, getting known, so that people will want to buy your work. That often takes years but it can be helped along by developing a list of shows your work has appeared in which expands your reputation as an up and coming artists. And collectors are always looking for up and coming artists.
So entering shows and contests and shows that charge entry fees has to be done carefully and wisely or one can waste a lot of time and money on things that will not add to your reputation as an artist or ultimate goal of sustaining yourself through sales of art."


I enter shows, but I choose them carefully, and I never enter those with fees over $35. That's my limit. Once in a while I'll find a competition with no entry fee, but those are all too rare these days.

For some tips on entering art shows, check out this link:




Spherical Swirl Lantern
Spherical Swirl Lantern
Interwoven Vessel, detail
Interwoven Vessel, detail

Large Floral Pod, 16" x 16" x 16"
Large Floral Pod, 16" x 16" x 16"
Small Seed Pod
Small Seed Pod