In Conversation with Carla Rapoport

Carla Rapoport is CEO and Founder of the Lumen Prize, the first ever prize for Digital Art. The Painting Imperative’s Roisín McGuigan spoke to Carla on her return from a promotional trip to China.


Roisín McGuigan: Can you tell me how this prize came about? Was it a lightbulb moment or a protracted and strategic initiative?

Carla Rapoport: A bit lightbulb and a bit of a process. I’ve always loved art and have been particularly drawn to the people who make it. Two people I admire, my brother-in-law Adrian Moyes, and David Hockney, have been creating wonderful pictures without brushes i.e., using technology, for some years. Adrian uses his camera and Photoshop and David, in recent years, used his phone and then his iPad.

Given my background as a business journalist I was aware that just about everyone in the world had a phone and, increasingly, a smartphone. When the iPad started sweeping the world, it occurred to me that David Hockney couldn’t be the only artist creating art this way. As I looked into it, I began collecting amazing examples – by artists all over the world –and most of them had a luminosity that seemed to pop off my screen.

As I wanted to find the best of this art and to raise its profile worldwide, the idea of a contest was born. From the start, I wanted the contest to have a heart, i.e. to benefit a global charity. I drew up a shortlist of causes I felt passionate about. Luckily for me, the very first one on my list, Peace Direct, loved the idea and have helped me to develop it, providing logistical support, contacts and global reach. In turn, proceeds after costs will go towards supporting their vital work.

RMcG: You are currently in Shanghai promoting the prize; do you see the Chinese as your target audience or is this the first of a global promotional campaign?

CR: I’m in China to collect some pictures for an annual exhibition of traditional (i.e. non-digital) art that I curate in Wales. I am also promoting Lumen and meeting up with one of the Lumen judges, who is a Chinese digital artist and lives in Shanghai. We would love to have a good show from Chinese artists but it is not our target audience. Our target audience is artists who create their work digitally anywhere in the world.

RMcG: What has been the response in China so far?

CR: Very good, but most of our entrants so far have been from the US, Europe and Canada.

RMcG: What are the criteria and parameters for the work you hope will be submitted to the prize?

CR: We are looking for work of exceptional merit and originality that has been created digitally, i.e. with the use of a smartphone, tablet or computer. We will not accept the digitized version of traditional art. We will also accept time-based, non-narrative work and 3D work created digitally.

RMcG: As an emerging artform, or at least emerging to art audiences, how do you feel this work will resonate with academicians and traditionalists?

CR: One of the reasons for setting up this prize was to show a somewhat sceptical art world that work created digitally can shine as brightly as work created by traditional means. As you are probably aware, printmakers were held in low regard for decades and had to set up their own Royal Society because the RA wouldn’t accept them as artists 100 years ago. Digital art will similarly take time to be accepted.

RMcG: And clearly the validation of the medium by a respected artist like David Hockney helps to alter viewers’ perspectives. However, I can imagine that the majority of artists working digitally are of a younger generation; is that your experience of it so far?

CR: That’s right, the stats of our Facebook ‘likes’ tell us that very thing, 45% of our Facebook likes are from people aged 34 and younger.

The submissions also tell their own version of this with work created on the iPad coming from the younger generation and photo manipulation works coming from the 40 -50yr old bracket. Interestingly, the iPad paintings of David Hockney have not directly influenced those working with the same set of tools. But we have 5 weeks to go before the close of submissions so there is time for any amount of creative and innovative work to be submitted.

RMcG: And what is the most innovative work you’ve seen to date amongst your submissions?

CR: For me personally as someone unaccustomed to looking at art on a daily basis I’d have to say the time-based/non-narrative artwork. I have been surprised by the depth and feeling inherent in these works. There have also been interesting 3D CGI submissions. But since I’m not one of the judges I can’t vote for any of it.

RMcG: You recently responded to an article in The Guardian where Victor Keegan said ”The digital revolution enables almost anyone with an idea to become a creator of art.” Do you think that giving creative power to the ‘‘ordinary people”, as you put it, levels the playing field too much or will the (true) artist rise up and win in the end?

CR: A talented artist can make a great piece of art with a pen and paper. Owning an iPad will not turn someone in David Hockney. However, the joy of creating art without investing in a studio full of paints, easels and canvas is making the creation of visual art anywhere, by anyone, a real possibility. The Lumen Prize aims to find the true artist you refer to. But, it’s important to remember that  “ordinary people” not only have more creative power to make art, but they also have more power to buy and collect it via downloads as well as storing and displaying it on digital devices. Given the innate flexibility of displaying and enjoying digital art, the days of simply hanging art over the sofa are numbered. I believe that in the years ahead, this trend will have a huge impact on what is considered great art.

RMcG: Although the proceeds will go to a very worthy charity, Peace Direct, submissions are not expected to reflect the work of the charity are they?

CR: No they’re not; the theme is wide open. We had quite a bit of feedback from artists themselves in the development stages and taking their advice we opted to keep the competition un-themed. Perhaps that will change in the future but for the inaugural prize its open to all subject matters/themes.

RMcG: The work selected for exhibition will tour traditional galleries; are there plans to also show the work online or in more non-traditional formats?

CR: As well as 3 traditional gallery spaces in London, Shanghai and Hong Kong, the touring exhibition will also take place in a bookstore in Riga (Latvia), which is quite an non-traditional space for Digital Art. There will also be an online gallery showcasing the selected/shortlisted artworks.

We are also exploring the options of a mixture of open spaces and galleries in conflict zones where the charity Peace Direct has a great impact. Digital work avoids many logistical obstacles, so the option to exhibit in places such as Sudan is much more achievable.

RMcG: The closing date for submissions to the inaugural prize is July 31st 2012; have you any words of advice to applicants currently preparing their submission?

CR: Yes, there are definitely 3 key criteria that applicants should consider:

  1. Craftsmanship. We are looking for work that reflects a command of the craft rather than just technical knowledge and proficiency.
  2. Originality, &
  3.  An emotional subtext or story; Rothko once said ”A sense of tragic is always with me when I paint”, the judges will be looking for a similar depth of emotional connection from applicants.


The winner of the Lumen Prize will be announced online in October.

For further information and details on submitting your work to the prize visit their website at

Images reproduced courtesy Lumen Prize