The Absurdity of Contests and Judging in the Arts


Contests in creative fields are oxymorons. Attempting to objectively score a contest which consists of a subjective artistic medium is futile. Artistic contests scored by crowd sourced scoring merely accelerates a march to the lowest common denominator.


A perceptive article by Stephen Dougherty [1] describes three common scenarios where judging of art contests is skewed by the preconceptions of the judges:

  1. Competitions sponsored by artist-run organization that are judged by a committee of signature members, officers, and/or "master" artists. The competitions help to perpetuate the standards held by the those invested members. [Refer to Professional Photographers of America example below.]
  2. An unaffiliated artist who is admired by a majority of people in the host organization is invited to serve as the only juror or awards judge. In these situations, the juror's prior knowledge of an applicant's artwork or his/her personal relationship with that applicant is added to the set of standards used in selecting winners
  3. [Often] museum curators, published critics, or university professors serve as jurors and awards judges. In those cases, the final selection is almost impossible to forecast.

An article by Ed Swarez [2] makes the following observation:

A particularly blatant and pernicious example of absurd contests in the arts is the Professional Photographers of America's (PPA) Print Competitions. Variations of these competitions are held on the national, state, and local level.

{1] Dougherty, Stephen. "Art Competitions: Unfair, Prejudicial, and Motivating." Stevedoreart.Com. 11 April 2018,

[2] Swarez, Ed. "Art Competitions Are a Pointless Waste of Time - Don't Enter Them." Swarez Art, 18 Jan. 2020,

Jeffrey Sward, December 2017. Revised March 2020.