Contests can provide a wonderful opportunity for artists. Yes, they can provide a little bit of cash, but more importantly, they provide exposure and recognition. Nothing legitimizes your artist profile faster than the words "Winner of the prestigious x prize" or "2023 award winner." Furthermore, contests give artists a purpose and mission to strive for. Who doesn't push a little harder when given a clear goal--complete with rules and deadlines?
The problem, however, is picking which contests are worth your time and which deserve a pass. Artists used to be limited to the few competitions available in their area. But with the internet, the art world has gotten more connected. As a result, it's now possible to enter contests on the other side of the globe and for newcomers to rub shoulders with - and sometimes beat-world-renown artists.
With so many choices, it's easier than ever to find contest options but harder to choose between them. Which ones do you stand a shot at? Here's a look at how to choose and what to consider, along with a list of the best art contests to check out in 2023.
How to find the Best Art Competitions - Ideas and Sources
The number of art contests out there can be a little overwhelming. If you type "art contest" into your favorite search engine, you will likely be bombarded with choices.
One way to limit it is to pick your genre or medium. For example, phrases like "painting competitions" or "portrait contests" provide more relevant results. So think about what you do best, what media you like the most, and what you want to do in the future.
Next, you will likely get more relevant options by sticking close to home. Try searching for your country, state, or city-based competitions, i.e., "Virginia art contests" or "UK art competitions." This will get you more results from the search engine. Just like you search the best art schools in the world and get a curated list to help in your search.
Here's a list of some types of content to keep your eyes out for.
- Magazines and Publications - Most art magazines host competitions. Some are for cover art, and others are annual contests that are highly regarded with prize money. Look for magazines that specialize in your media, like watercolors or photography. We have put together a list of our favorite art blogs that you must follow in the coming year to get inspired and jumpstart your creativity.
- Libraries - Many libraries, from your local city branch to the Library of Congress, hold competitions. Libraries are a good source of inspiration and a huge supporter of the arts in many communities.
- Government Offices, Agencies, and Not-for-Profits - These organizations use art contests to get promotional posters for programs, website graphics, and nearly anything else. They seldom have it in their budget to pay professional artists for commissions, so contests give these organizations access to artwork to use while providing exposure to new artists. The beauty of this is that you can choose the type of organization you want to work with and support, environmental, cultural, or political.
- Film Festival Posters - Film festivals often sponsor competitions for their promotional posters. Many of these come with themes to work from and are open to many media options.
- National Galleries and Museums - Art museums of every type host competitions. Check out your national galleries for options that are open to everyone.
- Local Art Museums and Galleries - Local museums may provide a higher likelihood of getting your work chosen since there will be fewer entries. They may be less prestigious than a national gallery, but they might also be more likely to support local artists and new concepts.
- Local General Museums and Memorials - Finally, don't limit your searches to art museums. Like film festivals and not-for-profit organizations, museums utilize contests to get their hands on fresh illustrations, paintings, and graphics. The prizes might be less than national competitions, but they're a great place to start, and thousands of them exist.
Do check our top picks of the 12 Art Contests for 2023
NYAC - New York Art Competitions
New York Art Competitions is a New York Fine Arts Group division. They host four annual juried art contests open to artists from around the globe. Their goal with these competitions is to promote artists' careers and their work to a bigger audience.
The most well-known contest is the Chelsea International Fine Art Competition, which offers more than $70,000 in prizes. Distinguished judges come from various fields in the art world to ensure selections are fair and balanced. Accepted works include sculpture, painting, photography, mixed media, drawing, and print.
Similarly, the Chelsea International Photography Competition offers over $55,000 in prizes and is open to photographers at any stage of their career. They also hosts the Latin American Fine Art Competition and the Artists Relief Art Competition.
Artists Network/Artists Magazine
One of the largest collections of competition opportunities can be found at Artists Network, the group that brings you Artists Magazine. They have an extensive catalog of rolling competitions. Themed contests vary based on media, i.e., water media, pastels, drawings, or acrylics, or based on subject matter like pets, southwestern art, artists over 60, and more.
Artists Network is a membership site. While many competitions are open to the general public, members get early bird pricing and an early bird deadline for submissions. Members also get access to an extensive library of how-to videos, magazine archives, and ebooks.
One of the most popular contests is the annual Watermedia Showcase. Winners are published in the next year's spring issue of Watercolor Artist magazine. Entries cost between $30 and $35, and top prizes are as much as $2,500. The contest is held in the spring.
Fine Art America Online Art Competitions
Fine Art America is an online community of members who create on-the-fly, pop-up art contests. The prizes aren't much, and it's not exactly the most prestigious competition to enter, but they provide a fun way to get your work in front of your peers. Informal online competitions like these can greatly motivate artists looking to expand their horizons or try something new. The stakes are low, but the rewards can be very high. You'll get better at competitions and exercise those creative "little grey cells."
Recent contest topics include "Peaceful, Tranquil, and Serene," "Christmas Card Photography-Cats," and "Abstract Flower Painting." Some are open only to members, while others are for the general public.
Some contests have cash prizes, but many offer only online promotional opportunities. Members of the site can start a new competition anytime.
The Lumen Prize - Digital Art
If your medium is digital, the Lumen Prize is where it's at. It's a global competition going on its 12th year, and to date, it has given out more than $100,000 in prize money.
The competition includes cash prize winners, a short list, and a long list of winning artists added to the Lumen Artist Community. The Lumen Art Project parent company then connects these artists to paid job opportunities.
Association of Illustrators - World Illustration Awards
The World Illustration Awards are perfect for graphic artists and illustrators looking to reach a global audience.
The contest has ten categories, making picking your category one of the hardest parts. But you can submit work to different categories or different works for each. Each category has a unique description and requirements, so read carefully before submitting.
Categories for the illustration awards include the following ten items.
- Advertising illustrations
- Alternative publishing
- Book covers
- Children's illustrations
- Commercial publishing
- Design and product packaging
- Editorial illustration
- Exploration of style and ideas
- Science and technology
- Public space sites
Sunny Art Prize
The Sunny Art Prize is one of the UK's most prestigious competitions and is sponsored by Art Council England. It's a global competition that aims to find emerging and established artists working in a wide range of media. In other words, it's open to everyone.
The contest shortlists 30 artists and picks three winners. Works will be exhibited at the Sunny Art Centre in London. Winners and some from the shortlist will also be able to exhibit their work in galleries throughout China. Prize winners may also be selected for a one-month artist residency in China that established Chinese art institutions organize.
First-place winners are up for a 3,000-Pound prize and a solo exhibition in London. The contest accepts work from all 2D or 3D art styles, including prints, painting, photography, mixed media, and even experimental or installation works. There are no limits on the theme. Entrants must be 18 years old or more.
Made in California - Brea Gallery
The Brea Gallery in Los Angeles hosts a regional art competition worth checking out. The Made in California competition is a juried exhibition prospectus that aims to share works by giving artists a shot at numerous awards and solo show opportunities. Works from many media are accepted so long as they demonstrate the creative movements within California.
Like many regional competitions, this contest is only open to California residents who are 18 or older. If you're interested in the solo show, you must submit a complete body of work between five and ten pieces. Prizes include cash up to $750 for the juried show.
Art Maze Magazine Open Call
UK-based Art Maze Mag hosts an open call for art, which will appear on the magazine's cover or as a feature. The artist-run and ad-free publication aims to promote artists and their work. Any visual arts medium is welcome. You can submit up to five works at a time. It is a global competition open to all 18 years old or older.
Jackson Painting Prize
The Jackson Painting Prize is made to champion artwork and provides all artists with tailored prizes and exposure that helps support them in their career. It is offered by Jackson's Art Supplies in London. Cash prizes range from 500 to 6,000 Pounds.
Categories for the painting prize include animals, portraits, landscapes, still life, abstract, and everyday life. It's open to artists from all over the world of all ages. Any two-dimensional painting or drawing is eligible.
NTD International Figure Painting Competition
New Tang Dynasty (NTD) Television hosts this international competition. The contest's mission is to promote pure beauty, goodness, and authenticity through traditional painting. In addition, there is a focus on positive ideals.
The contest is open to all realism artists, regardless of their location. This includes fine arts teachers and students from all over the world.
YoungArts National Arts Competition
If you are between 15 and 18 years old, YoungArts hosts a visual, literary, and performing art contest that you should check out. The ten disciplines covered are classical music, dance, design, film, jazz, photography, theater, visual arts, voice, and writing.
To enter, you must be a citizen or legal resident of the United States in grades 10 through 12 or between 15 and 18 years old. Cash prizes are up to $10,000, and there are tons of mentorship and professional support opportunities for winners.
Portrait Society of America
The Draper Grand Prize of "The International" is an impressive $50,000 cash award. The annual contest has been going on for 25 years and is open to all artists. The top twenty finalists show their work at an exhibit in Washington, DC.
The Portrait Society of America also hosts the Future Generation contest. This is a juried competition for portrait artists ages 18 to 25. The first prize is a $1,200 cash award and the Edward Jonas Memorial Medal.
There are so many contests that you should think about it for a while. It's a good idea to start a note document on your computer to compile contest ideas that interest you. You might find yourself more interested as time passes, so it helps to find it again when the mood strikes.
Not all contests are worth it to all artists, but they provide a great way to step outside your comfort zone and see how people react to your art. Meanwhile, if you are on the lookout for ideas to create an online portfolio of your artwork, do check out these stunning artist portfolios built with Pixpa.
An art portfolio website is more than just a collection of artworks. It is also a very important and versatile business and marketing tool. Artist websites help artists find new clients, get spotted by agencies, and build a fan following. Pixpa, a simple but powerful and versatile website builder platform offers extensive art portfolio templates featuring extensive gallery options including client galleries, a built-in online store for prints and digital sales. You can customize your site design using a simple & powerful visual style editor. Adding pages to your website is a breeze with Pixpa's drag-and-drop page builder. With a host of built-in tools such as SEO manager, Marketing Popups, Announcement Bar and much more, you don't need any extra plugins to start growing your traffic and converting more leads.
Art Contest FAQs
What is the most prestigious art competition?
There are several prestigious art competitions, but the most prestigious depends on your nationality and the types of work you create. For example, the US National Medal of Arts is given to artists by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Are art contests worth participating in?
The answer depends on where you are in your career and what you hope to accomplish by competing. It probably won't be worth it if you're in the competition for the money. But on the other hand, if you are excited about the challenge of the competition and the opportunities for better exposure as an artist, competitions can provide an excellent boost to your career.
What is the biggest art award?
The Hugo Boss Prize winner gets $100,000 and a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York, making it one of the world's biggest and most prestigious art contests.
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