Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Art Business: Society Signatures—Are They Worth It?

A society signature is something like “PSA.” In this case, it means that the artist has jumped over several hurdles to win the honor of being allowed to scrawl “PSA” after his signature on a painting.  Most societies, like the Pastel Society of America, place the hurdles high.  To get the PSA signature designation, for example, you have to be accepted into three national PSA exhibitions.

I'm proud to say that I have signature status in several organizations:  Pastel Society of America, Pastel Artists Canada (Master), American Impressionist Society, Pastel Society of New Mexico and Arizona Plein Air Painters.   Theoretically, after my signature I could apply the following cryptic string:  “PSA MPAC AIS PSNM APAP.”

That would take up a lot of space and perhaps draw the eye too much.  So, I trim down the list to whatever's appropriate.  For pastels exhibited in the US, I use “PSA.”  For pastels in Canada, “MPAC.”  For oil paintings, “AIS,” and so on.

There's one I don't have:  “OPA.”  That stands for Oil Painters of America.  I've been in a couple of the OPA regional exhibitions—for OPA, a mix of regional and national exhibitions qualify—but over time, it's gotten more and more expensive to apply to shows.  And, more and more competitive, as there are more good painters than there were ten or twenty years ago.  Plus, you have to reach the right number of exhibitions within the right number of years.  It's a sliding window.

Sure, I'd like to have the “OPA” designation.  It'd be a nice merit badge to add to my sash.  But, as I mentioned in an earlier post,  applying for these shows is like buying a lottery ticket.  I do consider myself a competent oil painter, but I'd rather spend my money on more paint and canvas.

Are there any benefits to a society signature other than “ego boost”?  Well, as with advertising, it's difficult to tell.  In my experience, there's little or no feedback.  I've never had a gallery, museum or organization to which I've had to submit a resumĂ© say to me, “It was that society signature that made our decision.”  Granted, among your peers, and certainly in the society your share, having such a status is applauded.

By the way, so many artists are winning signature status, that the societies have had to come up with new uber-categories.  Today we have “Master Signature,” “Master's Circle,” “Hall of Fame” and more.  Some of these are honorary designations; others are won by getting into more shows or winning more awards.  Has plain old signature status been devalued?


Poynter studio said...

Although not having had a "membership" status garner credibility with a jury or resume submission...I have experienced the reverse.
Not a "joiner" I have pursued my professional art career without art society membership or award submissions
Ocassionally after a jury or review I have had the feedback...we love your work, but what awards or signature status do you have?
Hard to know if it is worth it - the cost of submissions, delivering/pickup of accepted works, memberships fees etc..
I always try to ask myself " what are the realistic gains from membership or signature status"
Connecting with peers, sales, teaching & networking opportunities remain my criteria.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Yes, there are lots of costs to winning awards and those signature memberships. I always weigh the costs v. the benefits, and honestly, I don't think it's worth it. You're probably taking the right route, e.g. connecting with peers, sales, etc.