To Contest or not to Contest …

Spec work disguised as contest is something to be very careful of. And Evan already warned us about opportunists in this previous post. What I want to talk about here is the hazard or benefit of going through a competition as an artist.

We are hosting contests in our Facebook Art-Group and this raised some discussions that got me thinking about it quite a lot.

The definition of contest[1] is “struggle for victory or superiority”. Applying this definition to art making introduces some questions. We all understand how people can measure their “superiority” in speed in a race. But what makes an art piece better than another?

Some latin dudes said, “De gustibus non est disputandum”—“There is no accounting for taste”. If they are right, then why would we have artistic contests ?

Well let’s go back to sport real quick and look at some disciplines we can connect better to, like Figure Skating. The winner of a Figure Skating competition isn’t measured in meters, seconds or kilograms—they need a jury. Maybe a computer could scan a figure and give a measure of its accuracy compared to a model; but there are components of the ISU Judging System[2] that would make these Latins go on a huge rant : “Projection: The skater radiates energy resulting in an invisible connection with the audience. ”

Having this kind of criteria in an Olympic competition makes me smile: How do you measure an invisible connection? It makes me smile, not rant, because this isn’t the only criteria. It’s one among others that are all much easier to judge, like the skating skills criteria “cleanness and sureness of deep edges, steps, and turns, varied use of power/energy, speed, and acceleration, multi-directional skating, mastery of one foot skating …”.  Also how cool is it that empathy has its place in such a  scaled event?

I do understand why one wouldn’t like to subject oneself to an art competition. Imagine two skaters having exactly the same skill level and a judge connected better with one because of all his random personal experiences. How unfair would that be?

But life is a little unfair sometimes and both skaters improved by going through the same kind of contests over and over again. I do like contests personally because I look at it as an opportunity to try harder, an external motivation to improve. I guess I do consider contests as challenges, but challenges don’t have prizes to hope for, the goal of a challenge is self-improvement and the idea of comparing me to myself only makes me feel claustrophobic.

Also, what is art for if not to make an “invisible connection with the audience”? Art is meant to be shared. Some will eventually get more attention than others and that is part of the game. Getting critics and having people not “get it” will happen. In a way contests are a nice game of life, something to prepare you for your future job or clients.

What I’m saying isn’t that contests are absolutely “good”. I think it depends on what mindset you approach it from and what you personally can get out of it. I have never won a contest, but I still enjoy them.

Magali Mebsout

1- “contest”. Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. HarperCollins Publishers. 5 Aug. 2016. <>.

2- “Components with Explanations” (PDF). International Skating Union. 31 July 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 December 2013.

Thanks for reading ! Don’t hesitate to leave a comment with you opinion on art competition, I am sure there are tons of different answers to this tough question.



2 thoughts on “To Contest or not to Contest …

  1. Patricia Anderson

    These are interesting points of views. I am an artist and have always been told to enter into competitions so I could get my name out in the open. I will have to share this post with other fellow artists to get their opinion. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Magali Mebsout

      Hi, thank you for sharing your thoughts Patricia! I am glad you found this post interesting. And yes, I think that getting your name out there can be another positive thing about contests even though there are hundreds of other (and maybe better) ways to do so. To me participating to a contests is more about the extra push for improvement than about getting noticed.


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