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The cult of youth and the arts

Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of art competitions as a way to get my art out there. It gets it on walls in group shows which provides experience and simply gets it seen. Even online competitions can be valuable that way. After all, if no one can see your art, what’s the point?

I’ve been getting rather annoyed though as I look through the requirements for many calls for entry, some of them quite major, and find significant barriers for many emerging artists. And worse yet, this is in calls for entry specifically for emerging artists. The big barrier, sadly, is our society’s ongoing fascination with the cult of youth. That’s right, even the arts are prey to ageism.

Here’s a news flash to curators out there. Many emerging artists are over 35 or even 40, the age limits on many of the calls for entry specifically for emerging artists. Many new artists are not fresh out of art school at 20, and even if they are fresh out of school, they may be 45. Artists are not all set on their careers from day one, just like most other people in most other careers. Many of us have come late to our artistic calling, may be on second, third or even fourth careers. It’s hard enough to change your path later in life without having this kind of discouragement placed in our way.

If the goal of the curators who set these limits is to ensure they get only emerging artists, or feel that’s the way to get new, fresh, contemporary art, they’ve failed completely. Young artists can be very successful and far from a new voice if they’ve been out there for 15 years. Conversely, a 50 year old who’s only been starting to show their work can bring a vibrancy lost to someone who’s an old hand at it. There are better ways to limit work to emerging artists than age. Things such as number of shows, if any, success with sales and collectors, etc. Really, how much has their work been out there and how long have they been doing it is the main definition of an emerging artist is it not, so why not make that your limit?

Drop the artificial and quite frankly discriminatory age limits and celebrate all emerging artists, no matter how old they are.

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