Now on its 46th year, the Shell National Students Art Competition is the nation’s longest-running art competition for students. It is a legacy program of Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corporation, a leading company in power, energy, and gas technology in the country. Shell believes that it has a role to play in nation building, sharing in every way to develop the potentials of the Filipino youths to become productive individuals while helping the country move towards progress.

While painting in oil or acrylic comprises the majority of entries every year—a little more than half of all submissions—Shell continues to shine the light on other forms of art, in its quest for a holistic development of creativity and talent among Filipino youth. This is an objective shared by the competition’s jurors, themselves eminent artists who have a wealth of experience to share on the creative process.

Antipas Delotavo, a highly regarded watercolorist, presents an important insight into the existence of supposed “popular” or more preferred media. “Although I do not agree, there is a perception that watercolor is a minor medium compared to other media like oil or acrylic. But among mature and experienced artists, watercolor is considered a respectable and very difficult medium,” he reveals. According to Delotavo, watercolor is actually an exacting medium—a gauge that reveals “the level of skill of the artist or his inherent talent.”

Similar to Delotavo’s insight, Society of Philippine Sculptors president Ral Arrogante offers a different interpretation on the slim population of sculptors especially among competition entries. Rather than indicating a dearth or disinterest in the medium, he notes the challenges that actually illustrate the determination and commitment of those who pursue it: “Sculpture requires more tools, skills, hard materials such as metal, hard wood, glass, cement, and so on. It also requires more working space and bigger storage area.”

Respected multi-media artist Jose Tence Ruiz identifies Shell’s commitment to expose other media into the mainstream as a benefit for future art generations. Ruiz admits that the greater interest in oil and acrylic is “not so much driving as maintaining a well and hard-earned visual arts tradition, which does have proven permanence as one of its keystones.”

What Shell is doing, through its annual digital category competition for instance, “is laying a cultural foundation for its acceptance by a post-millennial generation.”

Indeed, venues such as the Shell National Students Art Competition somehow forces people to focus on the essence of art, and to buck commercialism and mere market forces that may tend to dictate the local art scene. Oil and acrylic works “fetch a higher price than any work on paper” such as printed digital art, Delotavo says. And yet, “passion is different from interest; it is not based on capacity to earn.  Selling is just incidental after producing art.”

“For me, I look for the art, not the medium,” declares Ruiz. “Art is an engaged evaluation of existence, visualizing this through all our available media. As a judge, I look for this process and whether the medium—whatever the medium—has substantially and essentially contributed to it.”

“Having different categories in a competition encourages diversity of interests,” echoes Delotavo. “Art students usually explore all forms of media from the start and eventually find their way to their real interest.”

The journey from art discovery to dedicated practice requires a constant journey between openness and cultivation. “I would advise student artists to first choose materials that are readily available in the market or in their surroundings,” says Arrogante. “Free expression and proper use of materials is next. They should explore their skills. They should not be afraid to try.” And this freedom to explore and create, beyond the canvas, is the valuable opportunity that the Shell National Students Art Competition provides.