Thursday, July 28, 2011

Some thoughts on competitions

I have just submitted work for the Clunes Ceramic Award. I wasn't going to mention it to avoid awkwardness should I not be accepted but then I realised I am actually ok with that. Having worked on selection committees myself I know how arbitrary and arduous that task can be, even with the best of intentions.

Clunes montage

The process of putting work into a competition interests me. Clunes accepts ceramic work made in the previous 12 months by an Australian resident. The prize money is $5000 with the work being acquired by the Castlemaine Art Gallery. There are other requirements regarding size etc but basically you send in images of your work and a judging panel decides if you are in or not then a judge selects a winner from the exhibited works.

My overriding response to this is... cool. An opportunity to exhibit and possibly sell work - good. A chance to make something that is not part of my retail repertoire - excellent. The potential to see my work alongside other Australian ceramicists that I admire - fabulous. Maybe a night out with champers and friends - wonderful!

But.. what to submit? I feel unnerved by a sense that the work must be 'substantial'. In what sense? Obviously in quality but in size? In price? In concept? 

Despite a strong belief that one little bowl can be as substantial as a large sculpture, the scale of an exhibition and exhibition space could result in it appearing insignificant. Should this deter one little bowl being entered? No. But context is important. Entering a set or grouping might be more appropriate.

I do love a still life. When I had a shop my favourite activity was arranging the displays. In my home I am constantly rearranging things on shelves - searching for chiaroscuro, taking things away and moving this one a little to the left. Arrangements are part of my work so for this reason, and other reasons that I will expand on in a future post, I have entered a still life. My issue - I feel like I am 'doing a Gwyn' (which resonates all the more on this occasion considering she was born in Ballarat). Gwyn Hanssen Pigott - I so love her work but I have to say her ceramic supremacy has made it difficult for the rest of us to group ceramic vessels without feeling like our work is derivative!

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott Travellers no. 3 2001 (image sourced from here)

The only thing for it is to make what I want, respecting her influence but holding firm to the knowledge that my work comes from within.

Then there is the issue of the value of the work. $5000 is quite a bit of money, should the piece I submit reflect this amount? It is not expected that you submit a work with this price attached but if the judge was having trouble deciding between two works would he/she be swayed by the artists perceived value of their own work?

And finally - concept. Clunes asks for an artist statement that "includes a conceptual rationale". When it comes to functional pottery I think 'because it feels good to use' is a fairly substantial concept but perhaps this doesn't stand up so well in a competitive field. I do explore conceptual ideas in my work but I don't think that this makes it of greater value than works that may less obviously do so. In the case of the Clunes Ceramic Award the requirement of a concept is clearly stated so it should be accepted as a prerequisite of selection. 

When it comes to a competition the idea that one piece is chosen because it is better than the others is difficult to avoid. Perhaps the best way to view the selection of a winner is more that it is one artists turn to be singled out and duly recognised and awarded for their work. I certainly felt that way in regard to the selection of Neville French's work in Clunes last year.

Neville French, Mungo Light 2010

I am, of course, over thinking it all and in reality have simply submitted work that I intended to make, competition or not. I am not 'in it to win it' but to set myself personal goals and challenges in order to make myself a better potter. I mention these considerations only to illustrate some of my thinking process and to encourage discussion regarding the light in which ceramic art is viewed.

And if you made it to the end of this rant I thank you for indulging me!


Gardener in the Distance said...

Good luck, Sophie!

Anna said...

Thank you for your 'rant'. I had briefly thought about entering but was put off by A) my work is decorative and/or functional rather than conceptual and B) I couldn't price my work anywhere near the $5000. I may reconsider next time around having read your piece, so thanks.

Patricia Griffin said...

Thank you for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I have been going through a similar process while considering shows. Your work is beautiful and though I realize you're not "in it to win it," I wish you much success!