|Cincinnati artist Monica Achberger participating in a
plein air paint-out, Milford, Ohio, sponsored by the
Ohio Plein Air Society in August 2010.
Looking ahead to the next several months, there are countless plein-air painting competitions coming up. We’ve all heard of the biggies–Plein Air Easton, the Carmel Art Festival, the Laguna Beach Plein Air Painting Invitational, and the Door County Plein Air Festival, just to name a few. Most of the big events are invitationals, but there are plenty of smaller paint-outs everywhere we turn. If you’ve never painted in one, I’d encourage you to give it a try. I’ve participated in quite a few local competitions, and I’ve always met the nicest people and had a great time. How about you?
Years ago, though, I would never have participated in anything called a competition. To me, that word conjured up images of me pitting myself against other artists. I had no interest in trying to prove to the world that I was somehow better than the plein air painters around me. Likewise, the prospect of having my work compared to others and coming up short was, well, obviously less than appealing!
But somewhere along the line, I started noticing how athletes talk about competition in a very positive way. For one thing, I've noticed that a lot of them don’t tie their self-perception to the outcome of a competitive event. In other words, they think that just because you lost, it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. Athletes perceive a competition as a test to see how well you can do a certain thing on a certain day. They don't internalize their performance, good or bad, as proof of how great they are as a person. I've also had several athletes tell me they savor chances to compete against more seasoned athletes because it pushes them to perform at their best, and you can learn a lot from them as well. To me, this viewpoint works just as well in art as it does in sport.
So now I love to participate in plein-air competitions. The camaraderie of it is a blast! I’ve never won an award for anything I’ve done, but I still feel like a winner.
What do you think about these outdoor painting competitions? Is competition good for us or a destructive force? And am I just letting myself off easy because I’m not competing at a professional level? Your thoughts?