CULTURE FRONT: Are awards rewarding?

By on March 18, 2014
When Bronwyn Minton was selected to create a public art installation outside Center for the Arts, the resulting Cairn Project fueled a new sense of scale in the artist’s work, as well as the challenge to create an interactive viewer  experience. Photo BRONWYN MINTON

When Bronwyn Minton was selected to create a public art installation outside Center for the Arts, the resulting Cairn Project fueled a new sense of scale in the artist’s work, as well as the challenge to create an interactive viewer
experience. Photo BRONWYN MINTON

JACKSON, WYO – Welcome to the latest incarnation of Culture Front, an evolving inquiry into creativity, art and innovation in Jackson Hole. Every other week I will delve into the new thinking, exploration and creative cross-pollination happening right here in your front yard.

In my first column, I want to address the sticky subject of awards. Do they fuel creativity? Are they worth the price of potential rejection?

Local artists had a number of recent opportunities to have their work judged, including the micro-funding dinner party Starters, Community Supported Art, a new series of art exhibits at the Center for the Arts and Planet JH Weekly’s Best of Jackson Hole awards.

I asked local artists how they felt about awards and contests and their responses were varied.

Bronwyn Minton said it depends on the contest. Minton has applied for and been awarded two public art commissions in the past few years, including the Cairn Project located outside Center for the Arts. “If it is some kind of problem-solving project where you can still do your own thing, I think it does fuel creativity,” Minton said. “It can help you think about your practice differently and ask questions in a new way.”

Aaron Wallis said awards and contests don’t inspire him creatively. “The idea of making art with the presupposition that I’m seeking approval from someone else on a completely subjective basis is antithetical to my values. I’ve only applied for anything with art I already created, so occasionally an award supported the work after the fact.”

Walter Gerald won the Starters award in December, and went home with several hundred dollars to fund a print project on Wyoming wildlife. “Starters gave me the financial opportunity to focus more on my own artistic pursuits,” Gerald said. “Presenting my ideas gave me a lot of exposure that I ordinarily wouldn’t have gotten this early in my career.”

For some perspective on how not to feel like a “loser” when the judges choose someone else, I turned to artist and arts administrator Pamela Gibson. Gibson has a wealth of experience as both an artist seeking grants, commissions and residencies and as a member of governing boards offering opportunities to artists. She currently serves on the Center for the Arts board and has a devoted art practice making encaustic paintings.

“Risk is inherent in creativity, and rejection is not failure,” Gibson said. “The trick is in staying true to one’s own process, win or lose.”

A common theme emerged after talking to these artists: Process. To maintain integrity, win or lose, artists need to look at how an award or contest benefits their process. How do the results challenge you to stay true to your own vision and approach, and also grow as an artist?

American philosopher Martha Nussbaum said an ethical life “is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility.”

The artist’s life, too, is based on this same trust and uncertainty.


About Meg Daly

Meg Daly is a freelance writer and arts instigator. She grew up in Jackson in the 1970s and 80s, when there were fewer fences, but less culture. Follow Meg on Twitter @MegDaly1

2 Comments

  1. Jim McNutt

    March 23, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Congrats to Meg for her new venture.

    The artists quoted may also recognize that whatever the awards produce for them as artists, their work also produces experiences and challenges for the people who view and encounter their work, so the value is measurable in multiple ways.

    • Meg Daly

      March 24, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      Thanks, Jim. A great point.

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