For some it is a dirty word. It connotes all that is dark in our spirits. But for others, it spurs them on to new heights of performance. Some seem to pass that boat all together....and are not necessarily any worse off for it.
When I worked in marketing, a lot of what I did was looking at the competition. Understanding their product. Analyzing the strengths and weaknesses. Figuring out how to improve our position. It was really all about competition.
Now that I am a craftsperson, I look at the "competition" differently. First off, my competition at a show is every single artist, in every single media who is there. Overwhelming in shear size and scope. We all, on some level, are competing for the dollars of the buyers who come to the show. My competition is not limited to those doing similar work to what I do. It is across the board.
Given that scenario, worrying about what everyone else is doing, within a framework of competition is a complete waste of time. Instead, I try to focus my attention on myself and my work. Is my work the best it can be? What can I do differently to improve it? I listen to the input I receive from others, and process it along the way.
I look at my booth and how my work is presented, and how I talk about my work. Merchandising and sales. Am I doing all I can to make the work shine? Is my booth an inviting space? Am I listening enough to what people are asking me or telling me?
The focus is not on what others are doing, or not doing, so much as it is on what I can do. The beauty of this is that it removes the "dark energy", lol! I can enjoy the work of my fellow artists at a show. I can recommend shows or galleries that might be a good fit for them. I can share information I have learned about selling, merchandising, marketing, etc. without fear or trepidation.
Life is not always a zero sum game. One person's win being another person's loss. Sometimes it is more viral. Sometimes success breeds success, which breeds more success. Celebrating others work and wins does not diminish our own. Likewise, a defensive and competitive attitude can close off the sharing of others.
I enter my work into competitions. Winning is nice. But truth be told, my motivation is more from a marketing perspective. It is exposure. It is credentials. With or without the competition, my work is what it is. And given the creative process it is always in evolution anyway. One piece, at one point in time, with one set of judges, may or may not do well. I make my work because I have to. I enter it in competitions because it may generate some publicity for my work, which will help my business. I don't make work specifically for a competition. I have never, ever, once, sat down and said, "Okay, I need to make a great piece for such and such a competition." That would be the kiss of death to my creative process. It would be too much of an all or nothing mentality for me. Remember Art & Fear. If a deadline is approaching, and I have the time, I will look around at what I have and decide what might be a good piece to enter. Perhaps this would seem as if I am not investing enough into the process of making a piece for a competition. Maybe. But being over invested in a contest just is not who I am.
Competition is not necessarily bad. Nor it is always so great. But in perspective and proportion, it can motivate. Are you driven by competition? Why do you compete? When and where does it feel safe, and when do you want to avoid it?
I have several pieces in competitions that I will learn about later this month. That may seem to have been the motivation for this post. But it wasn't. It was seeing someone whose work I love getting the recognition it deserved, and feeling thrilled to see it happen. Not only do I love her work, but I like her. She is a kind and generous person, with wisdom and humor. Seeing her achieve recognition for her work is exciting. Having kids gives us that experience over and over again. But it does not have to be limited to our relatives.
Celebrate someone else this week. Send them an e-mail or a note to convey your feelings. It will be viral. It will help them feel a little more special for the moment that the sun is shining on them.
Saturday, June 2, 2007