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Art Prizes: Some Observations

Australia has the most prizes for art per capita and some of the richest prizes in the world. Art prizes are an integral part of the Australian art system. There is a variety of Art Prizes available for artists.

An Art Prize is a forum where a wide variety of artworks is judged objectively on the merits determined, subjectively, by judges who inevitably bring their opinions, interests, preferences and aesthetic inclinations to bear in their judging. This is only natural; art and our responses to art are subjective. This does not diminish the fact that Art Prizes are a vital element of an artist’s career. For winners and finalists prizes give enormous exposure to an artist’s work. They provide an excellent opportunity to place artworks in front of a curator or collector who might not otherwise be exposed to them.

While major prizes such as the Archibald and the Moran can sometimes bring with them controversy, other prizes that might draw less public attention are nonetheless very worthwhile. Art Prizes are often judged by a panel consisting of a combination of artists, academics and curators. This kind of peer assessment and feedback is valuable to all artists, across all phases of their careers.

Prizes where the artwork is considered by a judging panel for pre-selection before the final exhibition means that all the works have been seen and if judged worthy selected for final exhibition and judging. The finalists’ works are curated before the judges make their final decision. This is a truly cogent way to have artwork seen, appreciated and evaluated.

Acquisitive Art Prizes provide an important method by which museums, large or small, and distinguished private business enterprises can acquire work and build their collections. Acquisitive Art Prizes are especially beneficial to winning artists. It’s not just a prize mention on the CV but a presence in public or private collections that can also be noted. Commercial galleries take a great interest in an artist associated with them winning or achieving finalist status in a significant prize. A prize credential adds to consumer confidence in the artist’s product.

Art prizes can lead to sales because art prizes are excellent provenance creators. Collectors like to purchase work from an art prize, even if the work didn’t win, because it does come with curatorial commendation.

Should emerging artists enter Art Prizes? It is important for emerging artists to look at the annual list of art prizes and consider which are worthy of their attention. An emerging artist needs to be discerning and not try to be all things to all people. If an artist is not a landscape painter then a landscape prize is probably not the one to enter. Alternatively, this might provide just the incentive required.

An emerging artist considering entering a high-profile art prize, should not be overawed, just do it. To have a chance of winning a prize “you must first be in it”. It is an important learning opportunity, a chance to test resilience and learn about the process as a first-hand experience.