This past year, I applied for an Ohio Arts Council Excellence Award in the visual arts category. I am a writer. “Why,” you say, “would you apply in an artists category that is not your discipline?”
Because I wanted to go through the process.
As an advocate for artists and the arts, I encourage application to grants and residencies. One of my visual artist friends said she doesn’t apply because the process is demoralizing. I wondered if the process is different for writing and the visual arts, so I applied in the painting category. You will not be surprised to hear I was not awarded excellence recognition in the painting category. It may surprise you, as it surprised me, that my score was not the lowest, and that the comments did not treat my works as abominations.
This fact answered my question about my artist friend’s reluctance to apply. It is not the judges’ opinion of the works that feels demoralizing, it is her own. The Ohio Arts Council, like many other grantors, asks artists to describe their works. As a writer, describing what the canvas was supposed to achieve was easier than making the canvas say that itself. For my friend, having to put into words that which is on the canvas is excruciating. There is a reason she chose to be a creative in a visual medium.
Still, I encourage her, and all artists in all disciplines to apply for grants and residencies. In my experience, the application process offers an opportunity to consider your creative practice from an intellectual distance. Even when in applying in a discipline that is not my primary creative field, the questions on the application forced me to consider my process. How had I created the paintings submitted with the application? How are they representative of my creative work, as a portion of a larger body of a creative work. What do the works represent? What was my inspiration? Why did I choose the medium I used to express that feeling or idea? This part of the application process is tough, and may be a struggle the first time, but like performance of any task, improves with practice.
In 1437 Cennino Cennini wrote in his Treatise on Painting, “what will happen if you practice drawing in pen? You will become expert, skilled, and able to draw from your imagination.” As artists, we’re all painfully aware of our first works, and many of us cringe over the technical errors and unoriginal ideas of those first efforts. The difference between those works and our current work is experience. The same is true of grant applications. So, practice. Approach grant applications as a practice prompt. Give yourself plenty of time to consider and answer the questions. Answer the questions for yourself, and don’t think about the panel. Then go back and read the application as if you were reviewing that of another artist. You are thinking “I am too busy to do that.” But, I promise, the process of applying will elevate your understanding of your art.
The work I did on the application for the Ohio Arts Council visual arts award has impacted my other creative work. The process has made me contemplate my creative drive: why I create and how I create. Answering the questions on the application made manifest for me that I must create. I am writing with a voice and a message. I am an artist. And the Ohio Arts Council awards? I intend to keep the application process as part of my creative practice, and I hope to see you at a panel review session in the future.