. . . and suddenly, 'it's all worth while' I tweet . . .
There is a frisson around submitting work to an open entry art exhibition. Perhaps 'sweet' describes it, or humbling, or grim. It could be 'blithely optimistic', desperate or just brutally professional.
If my recent entrant number to the highly prestigious Jerwood Drawing Prize: three-thousand-four-hundred-and-something is to be taken at face value, upwards of 4,000 artists entered on average two drawings each in hope of winning one of 4 prizes, or inclusion in an exhibition that shows between 40 and 50 works.
8,000 drawings vie for a hang in a 50 piece exhibition giving each a mathematical 1-in-160 chance. (all figures estimated) This is as much a gamble as a punt at Epsom or Sandown Park racecourses.
160-1 are not odds a professional gambler would contemplate, but a keen punter may put an emotional quid or two on a 160-1 shot here and there amongst the run-a-day favourites. The average punter might, and casual flutterers, aka idiot punters lose money all the time this way.
But I don't understand gambling. I can't do the lottery and don't much care for playing poker for matchsticks, or Newmarket for buttons or pennies with small children.
When it comes to considering getting into the socially essential Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the odds-against that the entrant faces are simply staggering, so much so that it is widely whispered that the only reasonable chance is to have a nepotistic nobble running in your favour, an RA insider friend to give a nod, wave or wink. Basically, a performance enhancing agent.
So when trudging embarrassedly in to collect a rejected masterpiece, the artist can take comfort from the mathematics. It was always 'odds against'.
The rejection stems from something else; the arbitrary mood of the judges, the zeitgeist, the dynamics of the exhibition space, it was an indefinable mitigating against your inclusion; exclusion was nothing to do with you, with your work, or a reflection on the merit of your piece.
It never was a competition and the odds were too stupid for it to have been a bet.
Still, it is bloody galling and frays at fragile self-belief that it is worth carrying on, not least because unlike 2 quid lost on a 160-1, this 'not getting in' has come dear.
There is the entry fee of anything up to £20 per entry. That's per entry, not per entrant. There is framing and the sky's the limit where framing costs are concerned.
While most artists can make frames, few can make them with a professional touch, few have all the tools required and none the range of options a framer has, but artists just don't have the time to blunder around making frames badly. Framing is not our trade.
So there is a framing bill, and then there's transport.
'Lucky those who live in London or near an exhibition's regional collection point' many artists may think with feeling, but even living in London, traipsing around on public transport lugging clumpy artwork is no picnic. Nursing precious, delicate and heavy frames down escalators, on and off crowded buses, footslogging with it through slow shoppers, drifting tourists, brisk workers, and speedy youth is no fun.
Driving art without a chauffeur is not an option. Trust me on this.
Taxis or couriers? Yes it's the best, but see the meter cost mounting again?
But artists get there . . . arriving down backsteps to dingy areas to find indifferent staff and a smattering of fellow submittees, but not fellows, a grim fellowship for we're not only suffering and gambling, but competing in a game where the rules are indefinable and the odds ludicrous. These fellow sufferers hate you as you hate them as we all hate being there gambling and competing. They might get in, you may not. We don't know yet and if we do get in and spot him or her at the Opening, it will be relieved grins of recognition, congratulation and 'hail-well-met's, but that's for later. For now, we pay our money to the neutral smiles of the reception staff, often students under a gimlet-eyed professional and it's hard not to read condescension in their faces, hard not to sense a weary sympathy, or is that a hint of a contempt in their eyes of the sort we all recognise when confronted with the haplessly gullible?
We perform the ritual, submit the forms and write a rare cheque, gather up our packing material and speed away spotting others arriving burdened and bleakly determined. You are anonymous once more and relieved to be unencumbered and unmarked, but slope off with a sense that we're all being ripped off.
Ripped off is one thing. Rejection is worse altogether. Worse because you've set yourself up for it, and collecting your rejected pieces isn't any better for knowing you are of a company of rejects. The same students smile neutrally, glance at your slip and call up your rejecteds from the reject storage zone. You re-use the same packing material you used before for the experienced keep it bagged-ready-waiting. You nod coolly at fellow rejectees who hate you as you hate them for being rejected, for being seen by anyone as a rejected one even by another reject and out you go into the traffic and crowds, jostling with your unshown pictures now uselessly, and you can't help thinking, unnecessarily framed. There are no plusses. You are badly out of pocket and out of sorts with the world.
A petulant 'never again' crosses your mind.
I have seen rejected work abandoned, left leant against walls, destroyed with the glass kicked in. A losing betting slip tossed underfoot.
I've been tempted to do the same.
But not NOW. I got into the London Group, so none of the above applies.
The London Group
Open Exhibition 2009
Menier Gallery - dates tbc (OCTOBER)
Smug smug smug & xxx all round.