Friday, September 14, 2018

An ArtPrize Retrospective

Copyright © Edward Riojas

Once upon a time, I refused to enter art competitions. But we must begin long before that time.

During my youth I entered a local art contest, The Festival of the Arts Visual Arts Competition. My two entries were rejected. Thinking those pieces were of undeniable merit, I scouted the resulting show to see what the judges considered worthy. I became disgruntled. I was, after all, a youth. A year passed.

The next year, I again entered two pieces. One was, in my estimation, certainly worthy of the judges. The other was quickly fashioned along trendy lines, closely mirroring the sort of thing seen in Art News. It was cutting edge, and I didn’t care for it.

True to form, the judges accepted the trendy piece, and rejected the other. I remained disgruntled. Another year passed.

When the contest returned the next year, I did not want to enter. At the last moment, however, I emptied a glass and metal frame of its contents, and stuffed trash behind the glass in a disgruntled sort of way. I gave it a nonsensical title, and entered it in the competition. Days passed.

My ugly piece, “Ibid, so what?” apparently was the stuff of which cutting edges are made. It took two awards, and the county bought it for a hideous sum. After that, I decided I would not enter art competitions ever again. Decades passed.

Then ArtPrize was born.

It took two years of badgering and shaming from colleagues, an old art teacher, and my own conscience before I decided to enter the fledgling art competition. I became hooked.

ArtPrize is the sort of thing one reviles and loves at the same time. It can be so annoying, yet no one wants it to go away. It can be horrendously ghastly. It can be exquisitely beautiful.

Above all, it demands much. Miniatures are decidedly unwelcome. Copious amounts of labor are enthusiastically embraced. Size matters. Patrons, who cannot possibly see every entry during the given time, don’t simply want a wow factor – they want to be knocked out of their socks, thrown barefoot on their backsides, and left completely dumbfounded.

Working with such expectations year after year is wearying, and takes its toll on even the most seasoned artist. I would be lying if I did not say ArtPrize has worn me thin. To that end, the organizers’ recent announcement that ArtPrize will become a biennial event came as a strange relief. And still I don’t want it to go away.

I thought it might be interesting to see the labor this competition has thus far managed to squeeze out of me. Below are my yearly entries, some of which slipped from labor-intensive into the insane...

“Owashtanong.” I did not like playing the Native American maiden card, especially with my first entry, so I pushed hard to be faithful to detail and the history of regional Ojibways. Tens of thousands of beads were included in the painting – each with its own shadow and highlight. And, no, it was not painted on velvet.

“Adoremus.” Among the comments this painting evoked was, “I don’t think religious artwork should be included in ArtPrize.” Troglodyte. Apparently, the fact that the Church single-handedly fostered fine art during the Dark Ages is no longer of consequence.

“F√∂rtrollade Skogen.” I was definitely on a roll – if not with commanding size, then certainly with non-English titles. This Swedish-entitled piece left folks speechless – many didn’t even know what they were looking at.

“Ecce Homo.” I waffled seemingly every year between sacred pieces and the urge to create fanciful entries. This one demanded close consideration and, occasionally, tears.

“Under Slottet Bron.” I went through 10,000 business/voting cards and could have used a few thousand more at the venue that hosted me that year. The 13 feet-wide gargantuan had a perpetual audience. Many thought it would make a lovely headboard. Perhaps for a troll.

“Fridur.” Still no English title. Artists sometimes do the most daring things, like using Google to translate the Collect for Peace into Icelandic and slap it on a painting. I prayed that no one from Iceland would visit, but come they did.

“Ambrei As Potamiaena.” Finally, an English title, but it doesn’t even read like English. I strayed out of the 2-dimensional category and into the time-based category. Using a database of thousands of names of Christian martyrs, the names slowly “bled” down the frame and onto the floor.

“O That My Words Were Written.” Being noticeably smaller than previous entries, this year's piece is simplistic, but is still heavy with detail. “Heavy” is perhaps the operative word for the theme and treatment, as well.

After cranking out these paintings year after year, the idea of ArtPrize going on holiday for a year sounds so relaxing. Of course, images of the next entry are already swirling in my head. ArtPrize, it seems, will not go away after all.

The Art Curmudgeon, aka Edward Riojas, will be showing his piece, “O That My Words Were Written,” at Cornerstone Church - Heritage Hill Campus, 48 Lafayette Ave. SE, during ArtPrize. The venue hours are noon - 6 p.m. on Sunday, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, and noon - 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.


  1. I feel the same way when submitting my faith based poetry. Surprisingly enough I have had them accepted in some markets. But I always wonder about it when they are rejected.

  2. I have been an Artprize advocate for many years. Sadly it has become a stage for social/political commentary and I believe this is why they have extended the registration period several times to get enough artists involved. I wish it would go back to being a competition without "elite jurors" telling the general public what good art is.