The classic line used by cutthroat competitors in reality television shows is, "I'm not here to make friends!" It's one of those things that would sound terribly anti-social in any normal setting, but somehow sounds okay in the context of intense competition.
Competition is a double-edged sword for most artists. I’ve entered many contests, won a few, and had my share of losses. Most other artists could say the same. At their best, competitions offer incentive to make excellent work. At their worst, they reduce the arts into a noisy county fair, with everyone desperately trying to prove that they have the largest hog. There’s nothing wrong with county fairs, but do creativity and ingenuity thrive in an atmosphere where the only goal is to outdo someone else?
When I see a really great painting, I don’t want to think, “Oh no! That person is better than I am!” I’d rather be able to enjoy their work.
This brings me to one of my favorite quotations from Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle is most famous for her Newbery Medal-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time, but this gem is taken from one of her nonfiction books, A Circle of Quiet.
“A great painting, or symphony, or play, doesn’t diminish us, but enlarges us, and we, too, want to make our own cry of affirmation to the power of creation behind the universe. This surge of creativity has nothing to do with competition, or degree of talent. When I hear a superb pianist, I can’t wait to get to my own piano, and I play as well now as I did when I was ten. A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write. This response on the part of any artist is the need to make incarnate the new awareness we have been granted through the genius of someone else.”
I believe it’s important for me as an artist to allow myself to stop competing and simply respond with gratitude and renewed artistic zeal when I see something truly great, something that, frankly, I could never have made myself.