The other week, my non-sexual digital boyfriend’s laptop crashed. Our nightly online video chats were reduced to boring phone conversations. He said he lost years of writing: pages of journaling, ideas for memoirs, and random personal quotes that would one day make it into an inspirational coffee table book. As I browsed through my own external hard drive (having learned my lesson to back-up everything from a terrible computer crash in 2007) I noticed how borderline-obsessive I was about organization. Most importantly, I noticed how masochistic I was to keep track of every juried art competition I’ve ever entered in the last decade, most of which I failed to successfully achieve.
After getting my BFA in 2005, I needed some way to get my artwork out there. “Did you apply” seemed to be the catch phrase with my peers, a kind of reminder of rigorous academic training in the fine arts. Creating artwork was one-third of the entire artistic process—the other two-thirds consumed by social networking and dreaded paperwork. Every week I stumbled upon a new art website with a new mission to bring you the newest calls for artwork. I manically applied to everything and anything, free or pay-to-play, and juried by anyone from the senior curator of X museum to a nobody with some extra time and money to make artists’ lives a living hell.
As soon as I saw an open call, I was ready to apply. I have a root folder in my external hard drive that has my artist’s statement, CV, biography, and title list ready to E-mail. I even have a fabulous picture of each and every single one of my artworks at a max size of 1000 pixels—but it’s the selection of the work that becomes the hardest part. The Present Group wants objects, Video DUMBO wants moving images, GLAAD wants queer themes, Avant Gaurdian wants fashion photography, Skowhegan wants this, Artists Wanted wants that, Future Generation wants this, 3rd Ward wants that…. Not only am I applying for group shows, I’m applying for opportunities to get myself out there. I’ll do anything! I’ll even try out for reality television! I want to express myself outside the walls of my studio. Am I sick or just a product of contemporary culture?
This year alone, I’ve sent out material for consideration to twenty-one calls. It’s a roller coaster ride with everything in life, and these applications have been no different. I participated in the highly controversial ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan after an application fee of $50. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my artistic career thus far. Locally, I applied to multiple group shows at Southern Exposure and Root Division, and wasn’t selected for any. On a more depressing level, I applied to a free and all-inclusive Slide Slam show for graduate and recent graduate students in the Bay Area at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts—yes, everyone was accepted—and still managed to be omitted from the final presentation. Going back up the roller coaster earlier this month, I was a finalist for the inaugural Asian Contemporary Arts Consortium Writing Fellowship.
I’m tired of applying for everything but it’s already become second nature. I’m desensitized to rejection E-mails but I look forward to reading how professionals deliver “unfortunate” news, and of course, the acceptance E-mail every once in a while. At this point, I don’t even know what I’ve applied for or how many baskets I’ve put my eggs in until I’m contacted that “no, you suck,” or “yes, you’re in,” or my NSD boyfriend reminds me that I save everything. I don’t really pay-to-play anymore, unless the jury looks swell or the online buzz for the competition seems worth it. And I definitely stay clear of any website that looks super shady—terrible scrolls bars, icky font, no Facebook link, etc. I’ll leave you with this anecdote: the other week, I got a call from a casting director of a reality show, saying that she had saved my application from a few years ago, and that I might be perfect for a show coming out next summer. I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but you know what? Yes, I Did Apply.