Why Emerging Artists Should Participate in Competitions

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of talking to Laurin McCracken about his stellar art career. Although he’s been a professional fine artist for only about 15 years, Laurin has already attained many of the goals he set out to achieve. His distinctive watercolor still lifes appear in private and corporate collections all over the world, and have been published in dozens of books and magazines. He’s earned an impressive string of awards, allowing him to claim master signature status in more than a dozen major watercolor associations in the U.S., and he’s currently serving as the President of the Watercolor USA Honor Society. Yup, I’d say he knows what he’s talking about!

Black, White, and Red, watercolor by Laurin McCracken


According to Laurin, juried painting competitions are the springboard to a successful career, regardless of the type of work you do or the medium you use. Here’s why Laurin thinks that competing is so valuable:

  1. Participating in the right juried shows builds your resume. “Most artists ultimately want to be represented by a gallery,” Laurin notes, “and galleries want to see a strong resume that shows you’re an active, respected artist before they take you on. Juried competitions are the way to achieve that.” The fact that your work has been chosen to appear in a wide range of juried shows—local at first, then graduating to regional and national shows—demonstrates to gallery owners and directors that you create high-caliber work and that you’re serious about being an artist. Even if you don’t win awards, the fact that your work is routinely selected is an accolade in itself that will impress gallery representatives.
  1. Acceptance into juried shows can be leveraged into media coverage. I was so excited to hear Laurin talk about this because it’s something I’ve long believed, too. It’s essential to get exposure for your work, and one of the best ways of doing that when you’re just starting out is to get featured in newspapers, magazines, books, and online publications. (Actually, that’s true for every artist at every level!) Participation in a juried exhibition gives you the perfect excuse for contacting the media and asking to be featured. “My first big break was to land the cover of Watercolor Magazine,” Laurin recalls. “That’s when people really woke up to my work.”
  1. Competitions give you feedback on the quality of your work. Many artists experience some self-doubt about their art, and although it may be tough to experience, throwing your hat into the ring with competitions will definitely show you where you stand. “When you first start painting, you get lots of praise from your family and friends,” Laurin says, “but you still wonder if your work is as good as you think and hope it is. Being accepted into a competition will give you the validation you’re looking for.” Having said that, however, getting rejected doesn’t necessarily mean your work is poor, but merely that you should perhaps spend some more time honing your craft and studying what types of pieces do get accepted into shows. 

Keukenhof Tulip, watercolor by Laurin McCracken


Personally, I’ve heard more than a few artists denounce competitions as money-making scams, and a few of them are. However, Laurin and I both agree that participation in prestigious juried competitions, especially those that culminate in actual exhibitions, offers many benefits for artists. Just look for the juried shows that are organized by long-running, respected arts organizations and galleries, and you won’t go wrong.

What are your thoughts on juried competitions? Let’s connect!

P.S. Laurin has a lot more wisdom to share, and you’ll gain access to his tips when you subscribe to my free weekly e-newsletter. Just click on the blue triangle in the upper right corner to connect with me.

Leave a Comment