|This photo received an award in the 1991 Photo Review National Photography Competition|
The first time I entered an art contest was in 1976. I was 10. It was the "Smile America" Dental Health Week Poster Contest, and I won a ribbon. The thing was, the ribbon was only an Honorable Mention. Not what I had in mind. Trying to wrap my brain around the terrible injustice while concealing my disappointment, the unfiltered reaction was to find fault with the other entries and the judges. You could say it was the first time I was unhappy with judging in an art contest, but I might call it the beginning of a mostly unfulfilling ride on the validation merry-go-round, which ended with an epiphany.
|one of my photos from high school, Peddie School, NJ Chapel during Vespers|
"work from the heart rather than letting
the whole thing get into your head"
One of the highlights was winning one of the top cash awards in a juried show at the Hudson River Museum in New York, for a photo of hanging laundry taken in our neighbor's backyard in New Jersey. The photo was also selected for "American Photography 6", an annual coffee table book published by Rizzoli around the same time. It was one of just a few images to occupy a double-page spread.
|The Johnson's Laundry, Moorestown, NJ, 1984|
Hudson River Museum Open Award for Photography, 1989
|Farview's Gold Dust (Dusty), Moorestown, New Jersey, 1989|
selected for the 1990 Photo Review National Photography Competition
|(far right) "Look at me, I'm a winner!!" (NOT!!)|
How many of my blog readers knew I was a US Masters Swimming National Champion, FINA Masters Swimming World Champion, US Masters Swimming Long Distance All-Star, and the first and only person in the history of US Masters Swimming to compete in all 12 national championship events in the same year? How many of my friends know I won the Newsletter of the Year award? You probably didn't know, because it doesn't matter to me anymore.
Usually I flat-out refuse to talk about any of it, but one of the good things about that experience was it squelched my urge to compete and gave me a completely new perspective about what healthy competition really was. It wasn't what I saw in that arena, nor was it what I saw with juried shows.
In 2008 I retired from swimming competition after competing in 21 national pool championships and more than a dozen long distance championships. The retirement was not the Phelpsian kind, when you come back the next time around to get on the validation-go-round again. I was really done with it, but not knowing what to do with the remnants of a defeated competitive spirit, I entered a few juried photography shows, mostly local, starting around 2009.
"And wouldn't you know, I received an award!" I said, rolling my eyes. It was in a juried show at Lightbox Photographic in Astoria, Oregon and was a second place for a photographic work called Zauberspiegel. So, there I was, riding that other validation-go-round...but it was different this time around. The ride wasn't as fun as it used to be. It wasn't much fun at all. It seemed silly. All I wanted to do was share the work, it didn't need it to be judged against other people's creations, and I certainly didn't need to be singled-out. "How awkward," I thought.
Although I was familiar with the Photo Review contest in the 1990s, I had no idea what had been included since then. Photography had progressed since 1991, hadn't it? I tried to push the envelope, but the judge wasn't having it that day. "Meh, no biggie," I thought.
It was some consolation to appear in a web gallery of favorite also-rans, but the work was better than that in my opinion. The thing was, it just didn't fit in, and I also appreciated that. Most of the photos in the Photo Review National Photography Competition are brutally realistic, hard, and not manipulated. "Aquarium" was far too fanciful and was completely created in Photoshop.
|"House of Wonky" 2012, Viewer's Choice in Sisters, Oregon|
Small Wonders Challenge
I made a little quilt called "House of Wonky". The quilt was about that feeling of having to figure things out from an isolated place. I entered it in the Small Wonders Challenge in Sisters because Mom would be visiting from Maine and I wanted to surprise her. It was open, all entries were accepted, but there were also prizes.
Since my goal was to get a rise out of Mom, there was nothing more at stake. Other people would get the prizes, I thought, and hopefully that would make them happy. My prize was the look on Mom's face when she discovered the quilt. The fact that I also received the blue ribbon for viewer's choice made the whole thing even more hilarious. Mom knew nothing of my quiltmaking activities before that moment. She is almost impossible to surprise, but I got her that time.
|"Wild Eyed Susans" 2013, Honorable Mention, Small Innovative|
Pacific West Quilt Show
It was fun to get in. That, for me, was like winning a big prize. There was also an honorable mention ribbon...memorable...but it was not at all the defining moment of the quilt or my experience with it. Don't get me wrong, I was honored! It's just that juried shows, acceptance and awards really were not what drove me anymore. They were more like funny things that happened along the way.
The epiphany was: work from the heart rather than letting the whole thing get into your head.
|just happy to be there|
Today I do not feel unhappy about that Honorable Mention ribbon from the "Smile America" contest back in 1976. Actually, it's pretty cool, and green is my favorite color. The blue ribbon winner, which I can still picture, really was more deserving, and admitting it didn't cause me to keel over. If you entered QuiltCon, didn't get in, and you're feeling bewildered, unhappy and unfulfilled, I hope my perspective helps. Everything will be OK. Perhaps the experience will even lead to the same epiphany I had. Juried shows aren't the end-all-be-all. You are, because you know how to make quilts. Also, remember to do the work to please you, and don't just say that you are. Really do it. You will always be fulfilled.