A Vote Against the Vote

Story by Eamon Brennan
Image courtesy of Artlog.com

The fall semester has certainly started, and with the changing of the season comes the promise of Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize, a 19 day competition for artists to showcase their best work in the hopes of winning the prize money for their pieces’ respective categories.

This year promises a change of pace in the competition: the introduction of subcategories for the popular vote and additional monies being added for the official critical judgment to equal the rewards reaped by winning the popular vote. But why is this the case? Recalling ArtPrize 2014, Artist Anila Quayyum Agha walked away with more than $300,000 of the $500,000 offered in the competition by winning the popular vote and tying the judged vote. Practically monopolizing the competition, the sheer amount of money awarded to Agha was certainly enough to support her career. But for her fellow artists, who also would have benefited from the money, the ruling was unfair.

After all, it certainly was to Agha’s benefit that her piece was in heavily trafficked Grand Rapids Art Museum where many voters were able to get a good glimpse of her work, and not on a street corner or front lawn somewhere far from the rest of the competition. Thus, in order to ensure that fairness reigns and avoid angry artists, it was necessary for ArtPrize to equal out the money from the two separate judgments and subcategorize the popular vote to ensure more works of art would make it to the final judgings. And for many, this was good enough.

But for some, this reform does not go far enough. Instead, they call for the abolishment of the popular vote all together, pointing out that the real flaws with the democratic vote (and how it favors the fortunate artists who obtain a good location) have not really been addressed. And despite the rather Westernized tendency to support democracy emphatically and without question, I think we cannot help but feel compelled to support their case. Indeed, how often is it that voters feel disenfranchised by the democratic system when there are only two names on the ballot each November because the candidate they truly supported was pushed off due to the prominence and established tradition of the two major parties?

Keeping this in mind, along with the fact that until this year it was better for an artist to win the popular vote instead of the objectively judged completion due to the additional dollars attached to the award, and you are left with the conclusion that many artists have chosen to support: eliminate the popular vote all together, increase the prize money for the judged competition, and make ArtPrize fair.

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