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Six Reasons Why I Didn't Apply for Your Art Opportunity

Post #1809 • April 10, 2018, 11:09 AM • 4 Comments

1. Your application fee was $50 or more.

Application fees have to be non-zero or you're going to get overrun. Conducting a review process is a liability on time and resources, and you have to cover some expenses. But who can afford these $50 and $60 fees? I've even seen a $100 one.

My price ceiling is pegged to a Series 4 color of Williamsburg Oils at the 150ml size at the retail price at Blick, currently $49.06. More than that and I'm probably going to get a big tube of Fanchon Red instead. Or some groceries.

2. I'm going to have to pay you more than $300 per week.

This is a personal and somewhat arbitrary pain threshold, based on how much work I sell, how much it costs to just stay home and make more of it, and an emotional factor I can't really justify. In fact, I not infrequently apply for things that cost more than this, in hopes of getting financial assistance or selling a painting just in time or other wishful thinking. More than once a rejection has saved me from myself.

But $300 per week is the point at which I start to wonder whether a given residency is really just an overly specific hotel. For that kind of scratch I can find an off-season rental in a small town in New England and just do my thing. I could acquire enough art supplies to keep me busy for months. I could buy even more groceries.

3. You're charging an application fee and the application interface is email.

If it costs nothing or nearly nothing to apply, yes, I'll put the ten image files you've requested into a consistent format of 01_FEinspruch_Title_Goes_Here.jpg and email it to you. I've gotten so used to that job that I do it from the command line and may finally write a shell script for it. But really, why am I not just sending you links to that art website that I work so hard to maintain?

If it costs more than twenty bucks to apply, then do right by the artists and use Submittable or SlideRoom or something like them. (But not Call For Entry, which has a soul-crushing UX.)

4. You require letters of recommendation up front.

You're asking me to spend something I value more than money: the time of people who believe in me and who should themselves be making art instead of filling out paperwork on my account. Also, a lot of them find writing painful. That's why they're artists and not writers.

I've made exceptions for this. The Fulbright wants three letters up front. I have supplied them because it's the Fulbright. Some programs only want one letter up front. Well, I'm fortunate that I have a friend who also sends out a lot of applications. She has never said no to me when asked for a recommendation, for which I'm grateful. I never say no to her when she needs one because I consider her to be one of the best artists alive. We both need them often enough that the job for either of us is more of an update of the last letter than a wholesale rewrite, though I still try not to bother her.

But two letters? Three? What are you, the Fulbright? Ask for them for the finalists.

5. Your opportunity is a juried exhibition.

I gave up on these ages ago. That I'll be out $35-plus for the entry fee is assured. That I'll be out another $100 or more getting the work framed and shipped in two directions is the probable outcome of acceptance. That you'll sell anyone's piece out of the show is, I know from experience, unlikely, which has something to do with why you're running a juried show in the first place. Really, if you want to exhibit my work, just curate me into a exhibition. If not, cool.

I sometimes make an exception if I particularly admire the juror. That is rare. Too, if the fee is low and I have something on hand that nails the premise, I'll consider it. Otherwise, I've been on that merry-go-round too many times. As I'm typing this I just received a call for a show that "explores visual elements being placed close together with contrasting effect." It's a $40 entry fee, an open-ended premise, with no named juror. Money put into this is not investment, it's gambling. I'm out. And this is from an organization that I respect quite a lot.

6. There is weirdness around the question of to whom you really award the opportunity.

A lot of organizations say that they are open to applications from all artists, working in all modes and at any stage of their careers. The far majority of them truly are. Quite a few of them are not, though. The only way I can tell is to look at a list of previous recipients. If there isn't one, and some Googling doesn't give me an idea of the situation, we're done.

I once applied for an interesting call that claimed to be open to everyone, but when the email announcement came out about the results, it was clear that the awards had gone entirely to artists in their twenties and thirties, mostly women, with a heavy emphasis on people of color and nontraditional media. (One of them was an artist who entices cows to eat vegetables off of her.) There's an important role in the art world for opportunities that are targeted like that. But really, just be up-front about it, and this middle-aged white guy and his little gouaches can stay out of your selection process, to our mutual convenience. Godspeed to you and thank you for your efforts.

This happens more often than you might think. The Georgia Fee Artist/Writer Residency in Paris sounds wonderful and notes, "The Residency is open to visual artists of all mediums, art writers and critics, 24 years or older." But they've given out eight of them since 2013 and none has ever been granted to a man. (Nor, apparently, an older woman, though that's harder to be sure about. In any case none of them have obtained an MFA prior to 2010.) It's $25 to apply and you have to set up a profile at ArtSlant. Again, it's fine if this award is restricted to women, or women between 24 and 44 (to pick something). That would be a fitting tribute to Georgia Fee and a great opportunity for those who would be considered. But as far as I can tell, dudes are throwing away their money on this, and I've been one of them once because I didn't do my due diligence. (I saw "Paris" and my eyes lit up. Mea culpa.) Maybe women of a certain age are too.

The point is, this goes on, so I have to check. Make it easy for us.



Dana Gordon

April 10, 2018, 12:21 PM

Franklin, don't you find something generally fishy, especially in light of the money required, about these "art opportunities," in particular the ever-burgeoning residencies? Having a long list of them on one's resume apparently throws prestige on the artist. But what does it really mean? That you have a circle of the right friends? That you have enough personal wealth, or an academic position, so that you can take time off for an art vacation? What does it signify?


Arthur Whitman

April 10, 2018, 12:22 PM

Franklin, I feel renewed honor at having your work in the drawing show that I once juried.


Russell duPont

April 10, 2018, 12:55 PM

Hear, hear! Couldn’t have written it better myself.



April 10, 2018, 1:14 PM

Russell, thank you. Arthur, the honor is mine.

Dana, whether they signify anything worthwhile, and they may, they are often good things to do. In my case, they have been so without exception. Every time I've gotten a lot of work done, and subsequently they've paid for themselves. Some of them have been transformative. I have met some amazing people who have become friends and allies. Obviously your mileage may vary. I have a studio practice that I can pick up and take with me.

Certainly some of them signify a level of accomplishment or at least seriousness. And certainly some of them are no more than art vacations. The above guidelines do an okay job of sorting one from the other.



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