Do you need to enter competitions or get a gallery to make a living as an artist? (I don't think so.) Here's why:
Most of us are not that connected socially or economically to people who could help "make" our careers.
I think that in the past art careers are built on social connections and you can trace that back to connections with wealth and disposable income.
I also noticed that galleries are also linked this way. However, I do think that there are alternatives to these traditions.
For example, I started to transition in around 2005 or so to promote and sell my work without galleries. By 2014 I had reached a tipping point where I was making much more money independently without gallery help or representations that I "retired" or declined to work with a gallery or in a gallery system.
My income had grown enough by 2016 that I was able to quit a full time tenured teaching job to paint full time. I am still making about 2/3 of what I made as a professor by working with collectors directly rather than working through the established gallery system.
It's a lot of work but I'm not reliant on galleries or those personalities that arbitrated exposure. I actually began to teach my business plan as a course before I left teaching and I've made the WHOLE PLAN AVAILABLE FOR FREE here.