A Few Words About Rejection: Keep Making ART!!!
As artists, we must develop the ability to deal with rejection without losing heart about our work, or worse, personalizing it. Rejection comes to us in many forms- your rejection may arrive in a self-addressed, stamped envelope, declining your entry in a juried show, or a gallery owner may tell you tactfully that your work is not a fit for them, or a random person may make unkind or even insulting remarks about your work within earshot of you at an opening. For some artists, close friends and family may not be supportive about your art making, or the direction you are taking with it. I have endured many of these unwelcome, soul-squashing experiences, and here is the factual and emotional enlightenment I have achieved through enduring and processing them, for what it is worth.
1. When you are rejected for a juried show, this decision is usually one person’s informed opinion. It is a truism that another juror, given the same entries, would have selected a different collection for the exhibition. Also at play may be a running tally that is playing out in the juror’s mind as he looks through the entries, “This landscape is really good, but the show seems heavy on that genre already.” “Oh, here’s another abstract that looks like a workshop piece from______. Can’t take another one.” Most jurors are conscientious about selecting the best possible show, as most are artists themselves, but as human beings they still bring with them their notions and preferences. I once actually heard a juror say that he was trying to pick a ‘southern-looking’ show because it was for the Tennessee Watercolor Society. How disappointing! I’ve never seen so many paintings of barns in one place in my whole life. These things are outside of an artist’s control. What we must do is to present the best, most recent work we can do and try not to take it too personally if we are declined.
2. When you are approaching potential galleries for selling your work, do your homework first. Look around for places where you could actually imagine your work displayed, and never approach a gallery owner to look at your work without making an appointment. You should be neither the cheapest nor the most expensive artist there. Your work should be different enough that you aren’t a repeat of other artists who are showing there, yet still consistent with the mission of the gallery. You should present a cohesive body of work that represents one style in which you are competent and engaged, but still have room to grow. If you are declined, feel free to ask respectfully for feedback, and really listen to any advice or criticism they may offer to help improve your chances in the future.
3. There have been times when I have heard a random viewer at a show or gallery making unkind or uninformed remarks about my work. I usually just let this slide, because everyone has a right to their own opinion. If they are especially persistent, loud or unkind, I may put on my most disarming smile and say something like “Pray tell me, how would you paint this differently?” or “I’m curious, are you basing your comments on a critical evaluation of the merits of this piece or is this your opinion?” Sometimes I offer to explain my philosophy of creativity or I give them a mini-artist statement, always couching my responses positively.
4. If your family and friends are not supportive, first try to understand the reasoning behind their reticence. Perhaps you have undertaken too many projects in the past without following through, and this new art thing seems like the treadmill in the basement that is currently being used as a clothes drying rack. Maybe they feel threatened by changes in your behavior as you begin to read and talk about unfamiliar ideas. Maybe the monetary investment necessary to fund classes, equipment ands supplies, etc. is troubling to them. Maybe they resent the time you are spending in your pursuit that takes away some of their access to you. Whatever the reason, your listening to and crediting their objections will help you converse with them without hostility about your need to do this. If you ask for their help and support in setting up a home studio area or blocking out time to work or budgeting for expenditures, you are more likely to get it than if you resentfully soldier forward alone. In the end, you may have to be your own best friend and supporter for a time until everyone understands that you are needful of a creative outlet and that this will help you become a more complete and joyful person.
5. Finally, if you are an artist, you can no more separate yourself from creative expression than you can from food, water, rest, and shelter. It is a necessity for your wholeness and well-being. It will help you be a better, more perceptive and generous person. Through art, you will explore and give voice to thoughts and passions that go beyond the expressive capacity of words. So what if you didn’t get into a certain show or gallery? Keep making art! So what if your piece didn’t sell this time? Keep making art! So what if your homies don’t get it? Keep making art! Keep making art and it will become a force for good in your life.