ARTISTS: 3 False Beliefs About Competition That Can Be Holding You Back



When was the last time that you felt competitive in an art setting, or towards another artist?


Maybe you kept it to yourself because you didn't want to be outed or judged negatively for it, but in secret you've been checking them out.


You're wondering why they're able to command the prices that they can for their artwork. Let me tell you, this is so incredibly common.


I just came back from my Carmel Art Festival painting competition not too long ago, and I am gearing up for more painting competitions later this year. And what I have noticed is that we all fall somewhere along the spectrum of competitiveness.


There is an unspoken competition when it comes to the marketing and selling of your art. Myself, for example. When I am showing with other artists in a gallery setting, or anywhere where there is supposed to be a sale, in my head I’m competing for who is going to sell their work, whether or not it’s acknowledged. There is an even more subtle competition of who will get more eyeballs, and who gets more people standing in front of their piece longer… can you relate to feeling this way? Let me know.


The point is, when we can be honest and acknowledge the reality of human nature in this scenario, we can start to bust through some negative beliefs.


#1 - Competition is a win-lose scenario.


Because one artist succeeds, that doesn’t always mean that another does not. Artistic accomplishments are not the same for each artist, even within the same scenario.

Take this scenario for example: Say I’m in a show with 3 artists, “Jenny” and “Eugene.”


Jenny is just beginning to start to show her work in a gallery setting. Her work is good; still, this is their 3rd show ever, so she doesn’t have the track record of selling work consistently. What she considers success might be 3 paintings sold at $500 each.


Then I have my own goals which may be 5 paintings sold at $1000 each.


And then Eugene is very accomplished. He comes in with a history of sold out shows, and was just on the cover of Juxtapoz magazine. His goal is 8 paintings sold at $2000-3000 each.


At the end of the show, Jenny sells all three paintings. She’s stoked! She “won.” I sell 2. Could be better but could also be much worse. Eugene ends up only selling 2 as well. So he “lost.” But this all depends on what you’re measuring to determine success. If we’re going by money, Eugene still won, because even by selling two, he still made more money than Jenny and I.


The point is, winning is so personal that you can choose for yourself what a win is!


#2 - Focusing on competition results in worse art


This is a very common belief. Yet for me, the opposite is true. I have found that I thrive in competition, as long as I don’t get too attached to the outcome.


Some of my best periods of growth have come from rising to the challenge of creating under deadlines and restrictions. I really believe that some limitations can stimulate our creativity.


It’s like I’ve said before: Making art is a form of creative problem-solving!


No matter what you are trying to accomplish, you’re starting at point A and working to point B. The cool thing about being an artist is that most of the time you get to choose what point A and B look like!


In a setting where we are actively competing with other artists, this is more obvious. However, when we are in our studios creating away, who are we competing with? That’s where it gets less obvious. We are usually competing with the last piece we made.


“How do I make the next painting better?” Or,”I fucked up that last one,” or, “that last piece was just practice, time to do the SERIOUS piece!”


Whether or not you frame it as competition, you are still motivated to end your journey as a better artist. And that’s such a good thing! I have to wonder how much art would not exist if artistic rivalry went ignored.


#3. Competition is the opposite of art


Again, what is art? In my eyes, creative problem solving. Whatever medium you choose to work in, it boils down to some form of that. In my paintings what problem am I trying to solve?


Well there can be many but let’s choose one. When I paint a figure, I’m asking myself:

“How do I create the most beautiful depiction of human form in a way that is honest to my voice?”


In that pursuit, I compete with the artists that have existed before me, the artists around me, and the artist I was yesterday. But I get to choose my level of success every time! In no way does the competition aspect hinder me, it only ever really elevates it. In a way, hiding from that reality is a way we hide our voice from the world.


If you are a competitive person, use that to your advantage.


Don’t let outside notions of what art is supposed to be determine your goals.

That’s for you to decide.


Competition has definitely helped me grow as an artist, and if you have always thought of it as a negative, I want to challenge you to take a different point of view.


In the comments below, let me know: What is a reframe for you that you can use to get out of that negative competitive mindset and actually make it productive for you?

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