Healthy Competition?

transits 32, photograph

“When we are in competition with ourselves, and match our todays against our yesterdays, we derive encouragement from past misfortunes and blemishes. Moreover, the competition with ourselves leaves unimpaired our benevolence toward our fellow men.”

Eric Hoffer

There are many opportunities in the art world to become embroiled in competition: juried shows, camera clubs, publication submissions, etc. It’s challenging to heed the excellent advice of Hoffer to compete only with ourselves. I do like the consequence he points out, that of minimizing any ill feelings toward others!

Competition in art seems so arbitrary – how can one compare a photograph (or painting) of a landscape against a figurative piece? Or between two pieces with very different styles? What qualities of the pieces are being compared and contrasted? I don’t envy jurors of these events – it’s a necessary task, but one incredibly hard to do well, I think.

Even competing with oneself is a challenge. How does one measure improvement? Often there are too many variables at play – if we created the same type of work over and over, we might be able to compare results, but I’m constantly changing what and how I create the work. Progress, if even identifiable,  surely occurs on a non-linear trajectory.

This year I’ve decided to engage in more events in which my work will be judged by others. I’ve had some success so far, and some rejections. I am a competitive person by nature, so am working on keeping that tendency in check.

This will be my last posting for a short while – this weekend I am off to Photoalliance, a portfolio review in San Francisco. There I will be confronted with lots of feedback from curators, gallery owners, artists and publishers. I will be looking for direction, networking and inspiration. Hopefully I will keep any competitive urges at bay…

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5 responses to “Healthy Competition?

  1. yes, competitions– juried shows– I have entered many over the years, and I have juried some big shows myself– one of the activities I do in my workshops is have everyone ‘jury’ a show– I show some slides and each person votes yes or no– this is to show everyone that the jury process is very arbitrary– usually one persons opinion and they come with their own personal preferences — so whether I get accepted or rejected I don’t get too happy or sad over the outcome– I get back in my studio and get to work.

  2. I have mixed feelings about entering competitions. I also have mixed feelings about being a judge for competitions. I’ve done both… it is SOOO subjective. I guess there is some value in entering a competition as it will give you feedback of some sort. The issue is you CAN’T allow rejection to influence your work or vision. Case and point… I love Chuck Kimmerle’s B&W work. He has been snubbed by B&W magazine two years in a row, however, this month he has a portfolio in Lenswork Magazine. Go figure… One magazine does not deem his work worthy and a better magazine (in my opinion) LOVES his work and showcases it. Bravo for Chuck for getting into Lenswork!

    Always enjoy your posts Bob. I hope you had a fruitful review!

  3. Have a great trip Bob!

    I suffer from competitiveness with others, and wish I could only draw inspiration for betterment from within. But when I analyse this problem, I am more driven to succeed seeing the success of the undeserving. Seeing quality musicians Toto, Steely dan, etc, succeed, gladdens my heart, and i feel no urge to compete with them, I am in fact inspired by them. It is the shallow, the unimaginative, the talent-free successes that I take issue with! Is that wrong? 😉

  4. I know judging is a difficult thing, for many years I was occasionally one at a camera club. But when such organizations are centered around competition, it is a necessary evil I suppose. It is quite difficult for anyone to gain any insight into their work from having a number assigned to it.

    Competition against my previous work is probably what drives me the most. As I continue to grow photographically, I hope to look back on images and not have any regrets that I could have done them another way.

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