I've found this following article at a fellow artist's blog and I'm reprinting it here because I think it captures the whole spirit of what entering these juried show are for.
"Winning an art prize, regardless of its status or worth, is a major event in an artist’s life. Not all artists are interested in entering an art prize for a number of reasons. Some feel their work is simply not good enough; others are overwhelmed by the standards demanded, while there are those who don’t like having their work judged. Many artists choose simply to sell their work locally and/or produce their work at their own pace.
Entering any art prize puts your work ‘under the microscope’; you are judged by your peers. On the plus side such judgements give you credibility and status in the art community not only with other artists, but with the general public.
To enter any art prize you need to have produced artwork that is extraordinary, not ordinary. This has to be the best you can do (at the time). You need to have respect for the medium you are working in, show a strong grasp of technical excellence and aesthetics. Artists need to be fully aware of the nature of the prize they are entering, who the judges are and what is popular with patrons. This doesn’t mean that you paint for a particular market, it means that you make sure that your work is noticed.
There are many definitions of “winning”. Firstly, being selected for exhibition in any art prize is a ‘win’, your work was considered good enough to be hung with all the other selected entries; well done, you are a winner! Not all work that is entered is always chosen. If you don’t meet the selection criteria, your work will be confused. Always carefully read the selection criteria before entering any art prize. Don’t forget to get your entry form in on time!" (Richard Kleko - http://www.artkelko.wordpress.com/)
Now, apart from wishing I'd written that, it's pretty much nailed what juried art shows add to an artistic career. You DO sweat about what you create and when I stand in line waiting to have my work received before the whole juried process even starts, I look at what my fellow creative spirits are entering - and, yes, I do run 'my own' judging process (......we never leave high school, sadly) and weigh my chances in regards to getting in. And, may I add, it's not a 'given' with my work. I entered 3 works this year and only one made the cut....and not even the one I thought would. There you go.
But when you think about it - it's a great act of bravery for artists to take what they have worked on from their soul and put it out there to be accepted or rejected by their peers. It takes a good strong belief in yourself to be an artist and carry on. I still say we artists are the bravest people around because we are willing to pursue our art no matter how many times we fail or are judged harshly........and I also will add, how long we wait for recognition or even to sell something.
This must be the 'truth' about finding your 'passion'. And at the risk of sounding (and believe me I will) fatuous, that this passion becomes the definer, the soul quest, the very essence of who you are.
Money, Fame etc. be damned.
* .....no accompanying painting today. It's impossible to find one that is themed 'winning' and well, it behoves me to say, ALL art is a winner in my book.