As a promised followup to my recent Artfields 2017 wrap up I would like to share some radical ideas about the award system in art competitions that I think might lead to truly empowering artists in our society. If we really want artists to be the mirror of society then we need to really start listening to what they have to say through their art. That is what is empowering. Over and over, I heard the Artfields leadership talking about empowering artists, lifting them up in our society and giving them ownership in the process. These are nice thoughts, but what would that actually look like?

Currently, we marginalize artists, much the way we marginalize anyone we want to dis-empower: by putting them in benign categories and labeling them. In society, if we don’t agree with people who make too much noise, we call them mentally ill or criminals; we lock them away. If we call an artist “talented” or designate them as “winners,” patting them on the back, then we don’t really have to deal with their ideas. Just hand them a check and send them packing. But this is not the point of art. The reason art exists is to convey important ideas; to change the world. This needs to be our focus.

So here are a few crazy ideas which may seem at first to be controversial or impractical. I encourage you to look at them with an open mind, to think outside the box of the tired old art competition paradigm. My investment in making these suggestions is solely on making Artfields, and indeed all art competitions, more vital and impactful to artists and to the communities they serve. I made more extensive suggestions last year to Artfields leadership and some were implemented. I truly appreciate the invitation to offer my two sense. I encourage other artists and community leaders to do the same. So here goes nothing:

The award structure should be changed in the following ways:

  • Honestly a first or second place classification is really meaningless in and of itself. The cash amount is a powerful force, but even that is a form of marginalization.
  • I would like to see categories that award how well the artists deal with certain big idea themes, for example politics, inequality, world peace, religion, family values, change, desire, patriotism, heroism, the southern experience, etc. Or perhaps a catagory for best storytelling in a visual media.
  • Nobody cares about awards in 2-D or 3-D, installation or mixed media, which are all but meaningless classifications.
  • Create an Award voted on only by participating artists. Artists will become more invested in the process.
  • Perhaps each juror should designate their own award, that is not subject to an exhaustive series of compromises made in the secret jury room.

Here are some ideas to add impact at the awards event and expand the influence of the Competition and the artists themselves.

  • Hire a local celebrity to MC the event and create more buildup like at the Oscars. The event needs more smoke and lights and lots of pizzazz. The envelope please. Rather than talking about how nice Art is and reading off the names of the winners.

  • The jurors or someone should talk about why the piece one, what about it is important. If they can’t do that they shouldn’t be jurors. These are career making and breaking decisions and we the people want to know what they were thinking. The Supreme court provides both majority and dissenting opinions. Shall we not take artwork that seriously? If not, why are we here?

  • The evening should be centered around the ideas the artists are working with, ideas intended to change the world. Critical analysis of winning works by jurors or art critiques from a variety of media is essential to establish greater credibility. Inviting artists to contribute feedback and publishing these on the website and in the catalogue might get the ball rolling. If you’ve participated, you can contribute. We are currently leaving great resources on the table. The winner needs to be profiled in prestigious arts magazines. They should be interviewed on camera, even if only for an archive. I would like to know how the award has impacted their career and changed their world

  • Artfields must lead the southern arts movement. To do this, collaboration with The Gibbes and other arts and historical institutions might be a good idea. Identifying with Southern arts giants and creating awards named after Southern icons, sponsored by southern giants in business.

  • Artists should be invited to guest Blog before, during and after the event. In fact this should be going on all the time. I don’t want to just hear about Artfields in late winter and spring. I need to be hearing about Artfields all year long.

  • More artist demos or artist talks, even a blanket invite to any participating artists to demonstrate and paint throughout the festival, in venues and outside.

  • I truly hope this sampling of ideas contributes to a better world. One of the things I look forward to most is discussing the art and the ideas behind it. We cannot walk away from controversy or difficult subjects. Art forces us to look deeply into ourselves. If we take these ideas seriously, maybe the “powers that be” might begin to do the same.



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