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Terry's Tips

The Value of Watercolor Societies

Fine Art America
Terry Mulrooney Work For Sale
Submitted by: Kelly Powers Creative Catalyst Productions
By Mike Bailey
For many years, even when encouraged to do so by my peers, I avoided entering watercolor society shows. For what? To pay for a refusal? To be embarrassed? Certainly not!
Listening to other artists talk about being refused and their rationales for not participating made some sense. But, there were those who kept saying that entry into the shows or competitions would be an aid to learning. I didn't believe them. One sends in an image with a check and then receives back a refusal notice. How could anyone learn from that process? There is no feedback!
A few years ago (at least it seems that way) after being badgered by peers to enter I won my first award. Even though I thought a big “whoopee!” at the time, I decided to go to the show opening and awards banquet in order to receive the award. An absolute shock awaited me at the reception and show.

As an amateur painter for many years, most of the other painters I knew were continuously chatting about the
subject matter of the award winners. Of course, if one listened enough to that sort of chatter, one would begin to believe that jurors picked winners based on subject matter and not based on the art itself. The shock came when my nose was pressed to the glass of all the paintings at that big national show. It was a stunning revelation. It sure was NOT the subject matter in the paintings. It was every square inch of every painting in the show. It was the overwhelming design, content and technique of every piece. It was the best education I could ever have asked for. I was witnessing the best paintings in the country and it was an overwhelming experience to suddenly see why these paintings were being acknowledged as the best.

Now, I have the distinct honor of being the president of one of those societies and have an entirely different view of those shows, even the local shows by local societies. There is a reason for their existence: to acknowledge good art today and raise the quality of that art tomorrow.

They do so by setting the example for every artist to follow. They hold up quality and encourage the country’s artists to be adventuresome and open new frontiers in their art. New teachers come forth as a result of being accepted and awarded in these shows. Artist enter better and better art every year. Whether it be non objective, loose, tight or realistic, the quality advances. One cannot see it overnight, but increment by increment it really does happen. The culture of watercolor painting (or other media) gradually changes for the better.

There is an opportunity here to honor those who run local, state and national organizations. I can assure you it is no picnic to have the responsibility and accountability for the success of the organization and/or the details of a big showing of quality work. Few actually consider that these organizations are volunteers. Volunteers who are selfless and who believe in the mission of not only recognizing artistic achievement but providing the environment where achievement means better quality year after year. These people believe in the value of art in our world and are committed to have it not merely exist but to have it flourish.

The next time a prospectus comes to you in the mail, think about what that prospectus is really doing. It goes beyond the one show invitation. It is inviting you to learn and become more skilled at your art. It is inviting you to join a group of people that feel just as passionate as you do.

Mike Bailey is the president of the National Watercolor Society and is a nationally-known teacher. Mike spends some 15 to 20 weeks per year instructing groups from beginners to advanced painters.  To learn more about Mike and to read his thoughts on an array of art subject, visit his excellent website and blog.