Why I Compete

Why I Compete

As many of you know, my blog posts of late have been a bit sparse. I am thick in the moving process since I move continents in just 2.5 weeks (AAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH! so much to do!) but I just had a conversation with a recent student of mine that left my jaw on the floor and I feel compelled to write a blog post about the topic.

The student was sending me pictures of what they are working on for Crystal Brush. This led to a discussion about competing after I shared some of my WIP photos with the student. The following conversation happened (somewhat edited but spirit of conversation is intact):

Student: You'll definitely win a trophy with that entry!

Me: I don't always win at competitions. Being happy with your own work is most important. Trophies are just icing on the cake. 

Student: I agree with that but let's be honest. What's the real reason we do this? It's not just for pure enjoyment of painting. There's no sense to doing anything unless you are validated as being numero uno.  That is the truth! We compete to have thousands of eyes on our pieces and to have others say hey, you are better than everyone else. 

*Jaw hit floor* *Eyes blinked at screen*

Did I just read that right?! Did we not cover this in my class the student attended?

Ok, so, let me say, I completely and wholeheartedly disagree with an outlook like this. If you are competing in anything, whether painting, sports, or whatever else, and this is the outlook you have; to be better than everyone else, then you are not competing in a healthy and productive way.

Why do I say this? Well, if your focus is to be validated that you are the best of the best, better than everyone else, then you are going to set yourself up for disappointment again and again and again. You are just going to frustrate yourself. Painting competitions are so subjective around the judges tastes in painting styles, taste in figures, whether or not someone likes blue wood elves (GW judges apparently don't as an FYI :P ) and a million other things.

If you go into a painting competition with the goal of winning, then you are dooming yourself, in my opinion. It's also just not a very cooperative or healthy stance to competition. I feel like this reason is one of the many as to why there is so much secrecy in painting for competitions and people not wanting to help each other. This is something I actually want to see go away. I'd rather see a more cooperative painting competition scene, world wide.

So, Meg, what are the reasons you should compete if not to be number one?

To be better than you were before. Maybe I hold this outlook because I was a competitive swimmer growing up. Even though I was part of a team, I didn't compete in relays which are the only actual team events in swimming competitions. I did individual sprint and distance swims. My focus was to beat my previous time from my last swim meet. If I beat another swimmer that was just a good confidence boost but it wasn't my goal. My goal was to beat myself every time I dove into the pool.

This is the outlook I hold with painting competitions. I never go into a competition thinking, "I got this! I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good! I am gonna beat the pants off everyone else!" I go in being happy with my work, knowing I have pushed myself and my painting to achieve a new height, to improve my own skill set, to learn something new in painting and construction techniques. I compete to improve. Not to beat others. Winning a trophy is just the icing on the cake.

Now, I didn't always think like this. I used to be the type of person my student seems to be. I went in thinking I needed to be better than everyone else. In the end it made me frustrated, unhappy any time I didn't place, stressed out and feeling like a loser if I didn't beat certain people.

Then a lot of heavy shit happened in my life that caused me to reevaluate my goals and outlook. You can read about that here: Reflections

I realized that I needed to focus on myself, the areas of my life that I have control over and to know that things aren't always going to go my way, life isn't fair and a whole bunch of other important life lessons. In regards to painting competitions, the only part I control is the quality of the entry I submit. As long as I am happy with it and have seen improvement in my skill set then I have already won.

You never know what someone else is going to bring a competition. You never know what the judges are going to like that day. Your entry could be damaged en route and that could affect judges results. You could have resin that doesn't set properly (been there, done that, bought the t-shirt twice in a year). There could be any number of reasons you don't win a trophy and they could be reasons you disagree with but guess what, that doesn't matter if you know you did something that is better than your previous entry.

THAT is the reason you should compete: To be better than you were before. Not to be better than everyone else.

In addition to this reason, other reasons I compete include:

  • I get to see my friends and colleagues at competitions.
  • I get to see the cool stuff everyone else brought.
  • I get to ask people who are my betters questions and hope to learn from them.
  • I get to advertise my work through the competition which helps me drum up commissions and work for the next year. 
  • I get to teach at the conventions which means passing on my wisdom to other painters. 
  • I get to have a good time. 

And just maybe, I get to go home with a trophy which is a nice ego boost! 

I will step off the soap box now.