Art contests are not anything new. They are as old as ancient Greece and probably even further beyond that. There are accounts of art being extremely prized in ancient Babylon. The only difference with today is that there are way more artists to be considered. The techniques are also more advanced and as a result the competitions stiffer. However, since time immemorial competitions for artistic flair have always resulted in the creation of some powerful artwork some of which lives on today.
The Greeks of old were renowned for their extravagance in terms of aesthetics. These people invested in art. One of the most famous competitions of this period took place some time in the 5th century BC as chronicled by Pliny the Elder. Two highly reputed artists Parrhasius and Zeuxis decided to compete to see who is better an artist than the other. The output is said to have been extraordinarily astounding with Zeuxis painting a bunch of grapes so lifelike that birds were deceived and Parrhasius painting curtains that deceived even his opponent.
A trip to Italy
Italians are notorious artists in all ways from their architecture to their cars. In 1401, the Baptistry of St. John hosted an art competition. The main objective was to find an artist who would craft a pair of bronze doors for one of the entrances of the church. The prize went to Ghiberti who took close to three decades to complete this work of art and was commissioned to do another set of doors.
You can never think of France without art and wine crossing your mind. 1663 saw one of the most famous free art competitions in history – the Prix de Rome. This competition had nothing to do with Rome just so you know only that the winner would receive a fully paid trip and stay at the Palazzo Mancini which was in Rome all at the expense of the crown. This competition was designed with the aim of solving a challenge that was plaguing French culture – how to afford continued support and education to artists guaranteeing visual arts are secured for generations to come. Well, it must have worked!
Exhibition of rejects and the Sargent’s Strap
The famed ‘exhibition of rejects’ first took place in 1863 with more than 3,000 submissions being explored by fine art competition judges of the Paris Salon. Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass took the day. Later in 1884, Sargent stunned the Paris Salon by painting a portrait of a lady whose strap had slipped down her shoulder. It was not well received by the conservative Parisians, but it was revolutionary in art contests of the time.
The main uniqueness of free art competitions in the 21st century is that they are hosted online. You do not have to worry about which corner of the planet you may be in. People can submit their work from UK, Asia, Africa into reputed contests. Just like in the past, these competitions could be career starters with a lot of artists starting their careers through these competitions.