IN MY OPINION: Art awards proliferate, but real reward is making art



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Art Awards

Jeffery Spalding's discussion of art competitions covers familiar ground.

I am glad he mentioned the disappointed artist whose submission to a major prize was not selected as a finalist. Jeffery was present in the room when, in introducing the Kingston Prize presentation at Calgary Art Gallery on November 1, 2013, I specifically thanked all those artists who entered the competition but were not selected. I do this at every such presentation, because I feel intensely the disappointment that many of those artists feel when not selected as a finalist. The rejected entries are just as much a part of the whole event as the 30 chosen as finalists. To submit to any competition requires personal courage, and I (along with almost everybody else) know this from experience. I admire that courage, and value all entries.

Later that same evening, I was astonished when another art professional attacked me bitterly and personally for having mentioned the rejected artists, saying that such talk in public lowered the atmosphere of the event. I made no response to this accusation. I was dumbfounded.

In the Kingston Prize we maintain high respect for all artists. The competition is an open one, and any artist can enter, without the requirement of referral or support by some "licensed" professional. The standards of the works entered are a direct reflection of the work of the artists who choose to enter, not the choice of gate-keeper curators who select even the entries, as in some other competitions. The choice of the Kingston Prize finalists, and then of the winner, is done by a highly professional jury, based on artistic merit. There is no restriction on style.

More broadly, I believe The Kingston Prize has had a positive effect on the area of portraiture in Canada. Other prizes are also effective in their particular areas. In the absence of a national portrait gallery in Canada, the Kingston Prize is the only regularly scheduled national event which encourages contemporary portraiture. We have armfuls of emails in appreciation for the event, both from artists and from the public. I have confidence that these people will continue to support us with their entries and with their financial contributions, despite Jeffery's urging.

Julian Brown. Co-founder, The Kingston Prize

Julian Brown more than 1 year ago

Art Awards

Thanks Julian for your comment, advocacy and financial support for the arts. I accept that your comments are solely about the Kingston Prize.

Thanks too for the observation that ".the choice of the Kingston Prize finalists, and then of the winner, is done by a highly professional jury". You may recall, I was not only as you term it, 'in that room' when you made your supportive consolatory comments to those artists not selected, I was the Artistic Director of the institution that hosted this exhibition and was a member of said jury (I guess I was one of the gatekeepers?).

Let's just agree to disagree.

It's your money, your passion, your commitment, go for it. It' is your prerogative. I happen to believe that some of the most extraordinary, moving and pertinent works of the past decades nationally and internationally have been portraits. The genre is at no means under threat; it is thriving worldwide. It needs no special incentive. Remarkable art works need to be championed not as portraits, but simply as art. I'd love to see more exhibitions of these powerful works. Museums need funds to achieve these important goals.

My personal observation is that a portrait competition format has not encouraged the accruing of showcasing these acknowledged international phenomenal achievements. Instead, it seems they are locked to stylistic and cultural assumptions from a time long, long past. What is the body language that dissuades applicants in photography, photo-based art, installation and progressive, multi-cultural socio-political content?
Truly, does the process identify: "the better from the good or the best from the better". It is a mail-in art competition; you characterize this positively as an 'open process'. Under the circumstances only certain types of artists need or will 'apply'. Respectfully, I would observe that the most significant artists working in contemporary portraiture would not and are not applying to be 'adjudicated '. This is neither the Stanley Cup playoffs nor the Academy Awards nor an art history primer; what is it that we are promoting?

So again, thank you for your support of the arts. If you want to promote the values of extraordinary portraiture; definitely let's work together.



Jeffrey Spalding more than 1 year ago

aart awards

Dear Julian,

As I re-read my reply to your comments I almost wish that my computer always issued an automatic pop-up: " Are you sure that you wish to post this comment; delivery is delayed three hours while you think this over".

I stand by everything I said, however I wish to re-emphasize my gratitude to you and all your supporters for taking the initiative to take action to promote ideals that you believe in. Your efforts personify ‘courage’, sacrifice and investment in the arts. Thank you.

The magazine very adroitly points out that my comments are solely "In My Opinion". Clearly you believe that portraiture is under-appreciated and so have initiated a process to redress this shortfall. I happen not to agree with either your analysis or the prescribed solution.

Portraiture abounds and flourishes in contemporary art practice, current exhibitions, films and video installations. Some of the most powerful art of our day addresses issues of identity, gender, ethnicity and soulful examination of faith, politics and interpersonal dynamics. They are pictures of people. They are portraits. However, the fine works I am thinking of do not aspire primarily to be a chronicle of a ‘likeness’ sensitively capturing for posterity someone’s outward appearance. We have Facebook for that. Look at any magazine newsstand, what you see is a wall of faces. The public remain captivated by people and their stories. The format and the delivery mechanism might be a little different today, but they are nevertheless portraits.

Thereby, I see no need to advocate for portraits as a special, neglected or endangered 'art category'. However, you do, so again you are to be congratulated and thanked for your initiative and enthusiasm. Since our analysis of the situation seems so different, then our preferred ‘solutions’ necessarily differ. I don’t believe that there is any useful purpose served by exhibitions predicated primarily upon examination of subject matter type or artistic media, whether it be etching, landscape, photography, still-life or whatever. I like art, not ‘types’. I accept that I am vastly in the minority; I’m not going to convince anyone. So I will continue to expect to perennially encounter a predominance of exhibitions with these as their raison d'être.

If there is some purpose for an annual presentation about a topic such as portraits, I personally prefer the idea of a national portrait exhibition, not a contest and prize. (I’m all for opportunities to learn about great new music; but not so much in favour of “The Voice”). Of course this would entail employing ‘some "licensed" professional’, a gatekeeper to take ownership of their selection of the finest examples that they can identify. Otherwise, we are relegated to just select from whoever is willing to submit. Obviously, if this is my preference, then I should just do as you have done so admirably; raise funds to advocate for this option.

(OMG did I just click send!)

Jeffrey Spalding more than 1 year ago


What is a good strategy in one situation, isn't in another, and we have no way of knowing because we can't predict the future or read artists we are trained to just start working then correct and change as we go, backtrack create new strategies as the situation demands. This is a relationship with our work, this is art, this is, when applied to life, the therapy of art therapy. Rational thinking statement would be: fuck if I know dude, I'll figure it out when I get there, I don't have to have the perfect answer or the perfect solution.
Positive thinking is like a perfectionist taskmaster with a whip sitting on your shoulder screaming at you, we must be liked and do well or else I am a shit! others must do the right thing or they deserve punishment! life must be convenient or I can't stand it!
There is absolutely no evidence for these beliefs. Others likes and dislikes only describe them in this moment and that changes in the next moment, it doesn't describe me at all. If I only have self esteem when others like me, I am so fucked....Better to accept myself as imperfect because I am working on a piece of life..and it doesn't have to be perfect, just reasonably satisfying to me.....

Jerald Blackstock more than 1 year ago

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