I have never been comfortable with the idea of artists competing against each other. I try to avoid doing it as often as I can. Most of the art groups I have been a member of seem to thrive on this type of show, hiring a juror to give out awards and cash prizes. Some artists I know thrive on the competition and the boost it gives to their ego and morale but I find it depressing. And I am not talking about my own work being overlooked; I learned to develop a very thick skin about this type of thing a long time ago. In fact I had to unofficially act as a juror for one art club when the selected juror couldn't come, and was forced to select a unified show which necessitated throwing out my own work! Go figure that one! My work didn't look very good next to 35 or 40 blonde (or bland) paintings.
I find it depressing because it means nothing and so much seems to be hanging on the silly premise that one painting merits a ribbon or award more than another. I have been the recipient of these awards and was totally demoralized when the juror gave one of my minor monotypes an award and totally ignored one of my major paintings, that, in my opinion, was far superior to the one that got the ribbon. I chuck these ribbons in a drawer or the trash and try not to advertise myself as an "award winning artist". But the art world is rampant with this kind of fake self-serving adulation and both artists and galleries seem to think getting an award is some kind of criteria of worth. The truth is that if you enter a lot of shows the laws of averages will eventually catch up with you and ribbons will come your way.
I have been a juror too....anything for money, although I feel that I should decline when asked to jury a show, but I might as well get the money as someone else. It is so subjective, and the last show I judged was so difficult since they separated categories and all watercolors were grouped together and the winners were given prizes by default since there were only a few entries! Some of the categories clearly had a "winner"; a painting that really stood out ahead of the others. But I was told to give 4 awards in each category so there were many paintings that received awards that I normally would not have looked at twice. Picking between two really bad works of art is especially hard, and sometimes the deciding factor was the matte and frame! What a shame.
How can you pick a "best in show" when there are 50 or 60 paintings, ranging from abstract to super realism, watercolor and mixed media, photography, and collage? In the end it becomes the painting you like the best. It means nothing, for another judge will pick something else, and 50 or 60 judges may pick 50 or 60 different works in the same show. I seldom see a show that has such an outstanding painting everyone agrees it is the best one of the lot.
One art club that hired me to be a juror thought that it would be fairer to have two people doing the judging, but what they didn't know was that we had to constantly negotiate with each other about which painting would get the awards....I get my pick, then she got hers. (And I was very annoyed at her picks and the criteria she used for judging the works were silly, in my opinion.) Fair? It didn't made any difference, and when she left early I got to select my own picks anyway.
I feel somewhat differently about the selection of works that will be in a show. There are so many feet of wall space in the gallery and a juror will often be hired to select a show that has a "look" to it, or theme, or coordinate the paintings in a cohesive way. This is different from the attempt to select an artwork of merit. I am reminded of one of my favorite authors who submitted a manuscript to publishers 900 times before someone published the best selling book he wrote!
I say to myself every time that I'm not going to support this system any more, but wind up doing it over and over anyway. I know it means nothing. It would be so nice if our business was like horseracing, or triathlons....the clear winner comes over the finish line first...but wait a minute. What about that horse that had a shot of dope before the race? Is that fair? Did that horse win honestly? The athletes who need teams of medical doctors, psychiatrists, managers, and lawyers to get ahead....hummm. Maybe I'll stick to this art competition thing. At least I have not heard yet of the juror being paid off...not yet at any rate.