Thinking About Open Exhibitions This Year?

Following on from my blog post, Getting Your Work Out There, I’ve had a couple of questions  regarding open submission exhibitions.
So why should you enter this type of show in the first place? A few reasons:

1. If you’re successful, it will expand your exhibiting history and may even prove to be a step towards an invitation to exhibit elsewhere.
2. It provides an opportunity for lesser known artists to hang alongside international names – always a bit of a thrill, unless you happen to be squashed between a couple of other nobodies….
3. There are often awards and prizes on offer so if you’re lucky enough to win one of those, that too looks good on your CV.
4. And if one of the selectors is the owner/director of a gallery you’d love to show at…. well, it’s a longshot but you never know.

And some reasons why you shouldn’t?

1. The cost of entering can be high – the RA fees at £50 for two pictures is not cheap. Also if you don’t live within easy reach of London, where the majority of these shows are held, then the cost of transport can be prohibitive. And once you get in, if you don’t sell your work, you’ll still be out of pocket as you won’t recoup your costs.
2. A CV with nothing on it but open submission shows is not too impressive – you need to get some variety – and there may come a point in your career where you should stop entering any but the most prestigious ones…
3. It certainly gets your work in front of some important people but obviously if they don’t select it (i.e. they don’t like it) then they aren’t likely to remember it (unless it’s so bad it’s been burned into their retinas).
4. And be aware that almost none of these exhibitions is entirely open submission – the percentage of invited artists varies but can considerably reduce the number of non-invited works hung. You have to research the numbers (not always easy to find but they’re out there) and decide for yourself whether it’s worth it or not.

 Here are a few open submission shows that I’ve always liked (obviously the first on the list is the most well-known and in my opinion, the best):

RA Summer Exhibition.
This is the UK’s largest open exhibition and it attracts huge numbers of visitors. Over 1000 works are exhibited from an entry of over 10,000 (although when you consider that there are 80 Royal Academicians and 41 Seniors, all of whom are entitled to exhibit 6 works each, well, you do the maths….)
There’s always lots of national press coverage (not always positive, I have to admit, but you can’t have everything.) Even I was featured in the Sunday Express one year – although I made the mistake of mentioning my three children and the whole article made me look like a 1950’s housewife, squeezing in the Art between boiling potatoes and washing nappies….
One of the most popular and prolific printmakers I know has enjoyed a conspicuous lack of success at the Summer Show. Finally he got in with a fantastic etching, sold out the edition (of 150 gulp!) in a few weeks, the RA used his image for one of their cards and has not got a look in ever since…
And another colleague got in on her first try while still at art college – unfortunately it took her another seventeen years before she repeated the feat…
As for me, the year before last I had no luck at all, last year I got both in, and this year I’m fully expecting another rejection. It’s nothing personal…
So, yes, the RA is a bit of a lottery but if you don’t try at all, then you definitely won’t get in. And if you do, it’s great fun.

This is the artist’s print show which the Mall Galleries host every year. It used to be called Originals, and long before that, the National Print Exhibition.
There are lots of prizes and a catalogue. It costs £12 per entry, with a maximum of 6 entries, though only 3 will be hung. This might sound odd but a friend of mine, fed up with rejections every year, decided to load her car up with six of her extremely large abstract woodcuts and enter them all. She only got one in (perhaps she wore them down) but she was delighted.
All my printmaking friends, almost without exception, have exhibited at this one over the years – I think it’s the biggest national open submission exhibition solely for prints. 

The Discerning Eye
The majority of the exhibits here are paintings, I’d say, but there are always a good range of artist’s prints too. Only around half of the exhibited works are from the open submission however – the rest are invited by the selectors. Again it has lots of prizes.
On the other hand, the selectors are always high-powered art world people – each selector has their own display and I think it results in an interesting collection of work. Your work could get chosen by the likes of Albert Irvin (2012) or Eileen Cooper and Brian Sewell (2011).
And you never know, you might get to meet them if they turn up at the PV but be brave – you will have to introduce yourself….

Mini Print Exhibition
This is run by the Printmakers Council (PMC) and is a biennial, touring show. There’s a full colour catalogue which is sent free to all exhibitors.
It costs £22 to enter three works but you can deliver them unframed as the organisers will frame the selected work themselves. That’s got to be a bonus for artists outside the South East.
Be aware that your print and ten copies have to be available for the exhibition for up to two years and it has to be truly tiny, 8 x 10cm, but then it isn’t called the Mini-Print for nothing…..

I guess the moral is don’t enter an open exhibition unless you’re confident that success will potentially advance your career in some way – you just need to be selective and to cultivate the hide of a rhino…..

8 thoughts on “Thinking About Open Exhibitions This Year?

  1. Hello Gail, couldn't resist commenting on this great post – I have been following your blog for a while and have enjoyed many of your posts. This has particular resonance for me. I started printmaking again three years ago making vinyl cuts on my kitchen table – I had to work small so I can pack away. Reading blogs about printmaking like yours has been part of my education and in 2011 I put a print into the RA Summer exhibition for the first time. It got rejected, I felt a bit gutted but decided to focus on print shows. In September 2011 I entered 2 mini prints to the 8thBritishMiniPrint. To my delight I got both in and then icing on cake I won a prize to use the Artichoke Print Studio for two weeks. I haven't been to Artichoke yet – hope to get down to London in the spring. Your posts have been informative, inspiring – I appreciate the insight and skills you share on your blog.

  2. Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Laura – and also for your kind words!
    Our studio, before we moved to our current space, was situated right underneath Artichoke and it always seemed a great place to work. Very quiet and purposeful – not like ours at all. I do hope they never heard us larking about all day.
    When you do come to London for your two week prize, make sure you spare some time and come to visit us at Half Moon – it's only ten mins on the bus – email me if you get the chance…

  3. Hi Gail – I am hoping to at least come for 2, 3 day stints minimum if they will allow me to split it over a couple of months that would be better to accommodate my young family and part time job. I am hoping to aim to come for the first visit sometime in feb the week before half term. It would be lovely to meet you and visit your studio too. Based on what I have been learning by attending the Bluecoat the opportunity to immerse myself in the printing process for three days at a time will be fantastic. The £22.00 I spent on entering the mini print was such a fantastic gamble that has given me this opportunity – I am quite daunted by it but also looking forward to it too! Hopefully see you soon. Laura 😉

  4. I know, Laura, it's not easy to go somewhere unfamiliar to work (to say the least!) but good to stretch yourself. I did a collaborative print at the Curwen Studio a while ago which I found stressful but afterwards it really gave me a sense of achievement.
    Hope to see you soon too…

  5. Thanks for the info. I'm very much an amateur and the art world is a bit of a mystery to me so I love reading this stuff. After I left school I entered the RA Summer exhibition in the 80s with my first ever oil painting. It was accepted but not hung, and wow, was I disappointed! As someone who had only ever painted with powder paint at school previous to this, I realise now that I was very, very lucky to have even got that far! Anyway I decided to give art another go last year and entered a print to BITE. It was really exciting to have my print accepted and exhibited with loads of great work. It's inspired me to try and find more time to do art when I'm not working, plus I'm mature enough not to be too bothered if I get rejected again!

  6. You're so right – we should try not to take any rejections/criticism of our work too much to heart, as it hinders us from expressing ourselves if we care too much what other people think.
    It really does take a certain amount of bloody-mindedness to be an artist….
    Good luck with it all this year!

  7. Hi Gail
    Thank you for this information this is just what I was looking for when I emailed you about which Open Exhibitions to enter. I have entered local/regional ones and been accepted so now I need to be braver and aim further afield.

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