The American Academy of Equine Art Juried Fall Open Exhibition opens next week, and for the first time, I am going. I am stoked. Not only does it give Steve and I a great excuse to go to an art opening (after all, my art travels much more than I do!) but did I mention it’s the American Academy of Equine Art? In Kentucky?
The AAEA is recognized as one of the preeminent art membership organizations in the world dedicated to the advancement and excellence of equine art. Membership is by jury and invitation only, and it’s rather difficult to achieve. Even the Fall exhibition – the only show that’s open for nonmembers internationally to apply for, is extremely competitive. It’s not uncommon for them to receive hundreds of entries, and they must jury it down to less than 80 pieces of art. Getting a spot is very, very difficult.
When I was younger, my favorite magazine was called The Equine Image, and it was devoted to equestrian art. The very first issue I ever received had a huge feature on the AAEA’s Fall show (I guess that must have been 1986? 1987?) and immediately, I was hooked. I pored over those pictures from the opening reception. All these artists – artists who drew horses! – surrounded by magnificent equestrian art, smiling and posing and socializing, with the artwork singing off the walls. I knew I wanted to do that some day, and it became my first “bucket list” art entry.
Fast forward to college when I decided to focus on equine and wildlife art and illustration as a career. A notice drifted across my desk for the AAEA Fall Open Juried Exhibition, and I realized I could make the deadline. Full of hope, I picked my three best horse pieces, packed off the slides (SO glad we’ve gotten away from slides) and settled down to await my acceptance letter. I think I even bought a bottle of wine to celebrate.
To this day, that may be the single most brutal rejection letter I’ve ever received. Not only was everything summarily rejected, but all of the judges included scorecards with the rejection letter, and I got to see what they really thought of my work. It wasn’t pretty. (I still have that letter, and I come across it every once in a while in my files. Even now, several years later, it still isn’t pretty.) I drank the wine. I think I cried. I probably contemplated a career as a dental hygienist.
Thankfully, in the years since that first, ill fated, unpleasant rejection letter, I have gotten art juried into the AAEA show. I’ve also received other rejection letters, and, while they aren’t ever pleasant, none of them hold a candle to that first crushing disappointment.
The AAEA has continued to mean something special to me and to all the other artists who depict the equine form. And, for me, it’s above and beyond a society of equine artists. It’s the realization of a dream, and the thing that gave me hope and inspiration and focus when I was lost and searching for a way to make a career out of this art thing. I’m honored to say that I’ve been juried in four times now, which makes me eligible to apply for full membership. I plan to enjoy my first ever trip to Kentucky and the AAEA Fall show, and then return home to Dallas to prepare my membership application. I think I may even chance another bottle of wine.
Here are my four successful AAEA entries from past years.