The basic thing to remember about Art Shows is: they are not about winning the Blue Ribbon. If your painting is awarded 'Best in Show' it means that particular piece ticked the boxes for that particular judge on that particular day - that's all. It does not mean you are the best of all artists showing their work at the show, anymore than the crown for Miss Universe means the winner of that pageant is the most beautiful or charming woman in the world.
The real value of entering Art Shows is: the experience of putting your work out for public scrutiny.It's invaluable practice for the days when you begin showing at a gallery, whether public or private. The elation you'll feel when you first win an award is a pleasure you'll remember for the rest of your life. If you can relish it while not letting it go to your head, and use the experience to understand the frustration felt by those artists who never gain recognition, then the experience will deepen your development as an artist and as a person. The disappointment you'll feel at not taking a prize or in not having anyone buy one of your pieces is bitter indeed. But it will help you accept - with dignity - the same result if it happens in the professional arena. Either way, you'll mix with other hopefuls at the shows, pick up tips from the experienced ones and learn how to overhear - without taking offence or undue pride - the comments made about your work by the public.
A prize won at such shows does confer on you an extra degree of confidence in the work you're doing. It is definitely taken into account by staff at the public galleries.
Does it count with staff at private galleries? From my experience - on both sides of the desk - the answer is: not a great deal.
Much more important to the commercial galleries are the quality of your work, the consistency of your style, and the seriousness of your focus on your career.
That said, the very fact that you've put your work out 'on the chopping block' as it were, to be judged in public, tells the gallery director a lot of good things about you and will encourage him or her to take a chance on you.
Art shows offer you another benefit - one I can best describe with an anecdote from my first experience of exhibiting in a group show at a private gallery.
When I arrived, the director/owner asked me to stack my paintings along the wall. He prowled along them, then turned on me with a sentence that stopped my heartbeat: 'You can't be an artist!'
He answered my choked-out question with this: 'You've brought the number of canvases you said you would. They're all dry, varnished and framed. And you've brought invoices, in triplicate!'
That morning, the most popular artist in his 'stable' had turned up with about half the promised number of works, many of them still wet, unvarnished and unframed. Because he was the-then 'star' on the Brisbane scene, he regularly behaved in this unprofessional way, leaving the gallery people to fix up his messes.
So you can see, getting early practice at being professional is the major value of taking part in art shows at the beginning of your career in Art.
What I'm mulling over for the next article is: how to use the Internet to promote or sell your artwork.
Dorothy Gauvin is an internationally acclaimed Australian painter in oils who specialises in an epic theme of Australia's pioneers. See images of her 'Life-Story' portraits, an ABC of homemade tools for painters with arthritis, plus tips and advice for aspiring artists and collectors on her website at http://www.artgallerygauvin.com/