Advanced learning

“350 artist submissions for 3 places… the art organisation will gain for sure, for the artists it is kind of a gamble”.

This post is a sincere attempt to suggest an improvement for the art world. However modest, as it is out of my span of control, it is written for art’s sake. Looking at how the art world behaves is sometimes telling, sometimes astonishing. I am assuming that artists would like to work as paid professionals in a professional art world, whatever that exactly may mean in this illusive and sometimes confused sector. Also I am presuming that artists have strong interests in developing their own learning curve. However, opportunities may be missed to maximise their potential.

Let’s focus on the Open Call for artists concerning this learning potential. The quests to submit proposals are especially valued by a wide range of – mostly midfield – art organisations who are looking for new works, artists and activities. The open calls are distributed amongst the many newsletters, art magazines, calls from websites and artist-in-residency platforms and are almost daily arriving in my mailbox too. And well-respected peers are alerting each other on appropriate applications as well, which is great by the way.

From all those numerous opportunities that are open to anyone who considers him/herself as a (mature) artist, most are not in your field of expertise or you are somehow not fulfilling the requirements. In my case, as interdisciplinary maker with an extraordinary path and a multitude of experiences in engineering, media, film and arts, I reckon that age and education may lead to some sort of exclusiveness too. But sometimes, just sometimes… there it is, the open call you were looking for! You read a description that fits you perfectly! And then the struggle begins.

On average you have to submit your CV, probably your artist statement – that complicated piece of text that can absorb so much time, till I came across this fun to use artist statement generator note 1 – and a selected portfolio. All updated with your latest developments please. But also clearly in accordance with or adjusted to the attractive and often new subject you would (desperately?) like to work at. The first hours are done and gone.

Then – most often – you have to submit a project plan. The request is something like this:

  • Give a detailed description of your concept &
  • Give an explanation of the way your artwork relates to the theme &
  • Give a description of what our visitors will see and experience &
  • Give a brief description of the technical principle of your artwork &
  • Provide a rough indication of the budget required to realise the artwork

or something like this:

  • Comprehensive description of the project including installation plan, storyboard, navigation plan, etc.
  • Technical means and materials
  • Work and production schedule
  • Financing plan with solid financing: own share, third-party funds, if necessary; planned but not yet solid financing: own share, third-party funds, if necessary

In so many words or characters, with files in these formats, and so on… well, you get the picture.

What this means for me, as probably for many others, is that your energy and imagination runs freely, a lot of developments need to be captured, stories pop-up in my head 24 hours a day, while attachment to the not-yet-granted grows, small scale try-outs are made, emotional involvement increases again… and on average at least three days of precious work go by. All good for a learning professional, one could argue. Indeed, these activities are like regular days in the studio.

After the artist spends his/her valuable time, energy and ideas to make an imaginative submission, the waiting begins. Now the collecting art organisation starts to work. The appointed committee of curators, artists, organisers and others involved, has the task to select the winning submissions in due time. This selection process is by its nature closed and subjective, which is fully reasonable. However, the results are often communicated by lines like these:

dear artist,
we are very sorry, but we cannot consider your submission in next year´s programme!
we got about 150 submissions this year, many of high quality, too many that we could realize them all. Our team-members went through the submissions independently and then together had the difficult task to build a coherent programme, create focuses regarding our main topic and match artists together. Maybe you are one of the artists, whose work we really appreciated and was short-listed, but wouldn´t fit in the programme. Sorry again – please receive our best wishes for your artistic future!

or

We regret to inform you that proposal on this occasion has not been selected. Due to the number of proposals it will not be possible to offer individual feedback. Please know that this selection process has often not been about the quality or scope of the proposals but about the yearly program as a whole.

and

… we sincerely hope you will be interested in applying again for our festival in the future!

Of course, these emails are disappointing moments for any artist involved. Aside from these normal emotions, I would like to question more profoundly: What is the benefit for the artist here? How can he or she improve the next entry? Is it worthwhile to try again next time? Did the submission stand any chance?

The art organisation might argue rightly so that any personal feedback is impossible as this will cost too much time and effort. Their finances and staff are under constant pressure too.

But what if I knew beforehand that last year there were about 350 submissions for 3 places, would I make the effort? And what if I knew that my last proposal was dismissed but was almost selected? That would surely mean I would use that proposal again at another suitable occasion. But at the moment, artists simply don’t know any of this.

Therefore I propose the following Feedback Ratings for Open Calls, which consists of two quantified outputs.

> Every submission will be marked with a rating – bar 1 till bar 5 – according to:

bar 1: submission done, but artist did not fulfil all formal requirements (f.i. cv, motivation letter or qualification lacks)

bar 2: submission did not meet the artistic standards according to the judging committee

bar 3: submission did meet the artistic standards but was not appropriate or interesting enough, given the theme of the open call

bar 4: submission was shortlisted (i.e. it was a serious contender that nearly made it)

bar 5: submission was successful and is granted

 

Every Open Call publishes the results in ‘bar’ ratings on their website

 

Like for example:

Bar 1 – 350 submissions

Bar 2 – 319

Bar 3 – 247

Bar 4 – 18

Bar 5 – 3

 

 

 

 

 

So, I do not plea here for more personal feedback and elaborate motivations. That would be “far out of art world reality”. The mere extra effort asked from the committee members can not be too much of a burden. The often holistic selection process is shifting proposals on stacks anyway. The extra effort lies mainly in a bit more administration and communication. But the professional yield will be for all involved in the art field.

With the feedback rating the artist earns insight by this quantification of the submission. Earning or learning is a fair trade for the artist efforts to my opinion.

Through publication of open call ratings transparency about the chances may further lead to clear expectations. Both resulting in advanced learning, which seems a better deal for both applicants, their submissions and the art organisations in the long term.

 

Herewith I would like to invite art organisations and professionals about their opinion concerning this proposal. All comments are welcome and will be published on this website. Please click here for your reaction.

 

Note: if one prefers stars instead of bars, I don’t mind at all, as long as advanced learning is aimed for.

 

Note 1. See here what my artist statement would look like when I used the generator of 500 letters by Jasper Rigole. By the way, so far I have never used this for an open call.