Sunday, February 26, 2012

Submitting to the Unknown

Submissions are a part of every artist’s life. Whether it’s submitting a portfolio to an art school, a portfolio for a job, or a submission to an art show or gallery. They are something that every artist has to do if they want to put their work in the public arena.

What value does submitting our work have? Why does it seem that art making which it on the face of it, lacks opponents, all about competition? Obviously for school or a job, it's the difference between a career in art or a job in the art field. Submitting to shows and galleries can be the difference between recognition and obscurity. Art is competitive whether we like it or not.

That said, it should be remembered that if an artist is never recognized, it doesn’t mean they aren’t talented—just obscure. There are plenty of artists who have submitted work and gotten recognition who only have nominal talent. And there are great artists who have died trying. Vermeer was not recognized in his lifetime. Neither was Van Gogh.

So much recognition is about time and place—what is fashionable, what is new, who does the judging. Art has not been judged in an academy system since the late 1800s. Self-promotion and networking are how many branded artists have gotten recognition. Gallery directors can exude enormous power. But so can prestigious art schools.

Recently a friend and I have begun to submit a children’s book that we have collaborated on. He wrote the story. I designed the book and painted the illustrations. It is a daunting enterprise. Not that I haven’t submitted work before. I have and I’ve gotten some results. Some years I’m in as many as twelve shows.

But sometimes, the same painting that is awarded in one show, is not accepted in another. But submitting a children’s book is different. We are unknown. The competition is fierce. The chance of even a small nod is remote. So why bother? Why take this chance in a new arena against so many odds?

I think it has to do with taking chances. Taking a chance means that maybe something will happen. Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geiser) submitted The Cat in the Hat twenty-seven times before it was accepted for publication. Chicken Soup for the Soul was submitted one hundred and forty times. If we don’t take that chance, maybe twenty-seven maybe one hundred and forty, nothing will happen.

I try to encourage my students to submit their work—submit their work to graduate school, a job interview, or a juried art show. See what happens. Maybe nothing, maybe everything will. Count only the acceptances and discard the rest. You never know.