How to Handle Rejection as an Artist

 Nest, Detail
Oil on Wood Panel

A Boo is a Lot Louder Than a Cheer

~ Lance Armstrong

Thank you for submitting your artwork. Our jurors reviewed hundreds of submissions from all over the country. We’re sorry to inform you, however…


Kinda sucks, doesn’t it?

Anyone telling you otherwise is either lying or delusional in my not-so-humble opinion.

A gallery or juror rejecting your art can leave you feeling like you’re being dumped. Both experiences can make you feel unworthy, plain and simple, and no amount of reassurance will ease that feeling:

“It’s not you, it’s me.
“Well, that’s a relief.”

Problem for artists is that rejection is unavoidable.

Art galleries are drowning in unsolicited artist submissions as they fight to stay in business. Likewise, grants, scholarships, and residencies go to just a fraction of applicants.

How then do you persevere without losing your confidence, your sanity, or both?

“You deserve better than me.

“That’s true. Who doesn’t?”

I won’t repeat the same advice you’ve heard a thousand times (don’t take it personally, learn from the experience, blah blah) but will share some personal strategies that I find actually do work.

Hopefully, they’ll keep you in the game too.

First, Invite Humiliation

How to Handle Rejection as an Artist-Blog Post by Christopher Gallego-Featured Artist Julian Merrow Smith

Julian Merrow-Smith
Oil on Linen on Aluminium Panel
26 x 22 cm.

This is a powerful technique but it’s not for everyone.

It entails throwing yourself into humiliating situations, as many as you can bear, and developing a thick skin in the process. It’s like getting a flu shot, but instead of one a year, go for one a month.

A blogger I admire suggests lying on the floor of a busy department store or train station as an exercise that inures you to the disapproval of strangers.

Extreme, yes, and I don’t recommend it myself.

But you could volunteer to give an artist talk if you’re afraid of public speaking, and who isn’t? Or approach a gallery or museum you feel is way out of your league.

One of two things will happen: you’ll either succeed or you’ll bounce back a little tougher than you were before.

Know the Universe Makes No Mistakes

I wish this quote weren't so overused, because I love it.

But ask yourself, how many soul-crushing disappointments in your life or career have enabled something wonderful to happen? Think of all the high achievers who rebounded and then triumphed after they failed:

• A rising portrait artist is shredded by critics, flees to another country, and becomes a phenomenon.

• A young CEO is fired, then becomes a billionaire while transforming the world. 

And then on the flip side are the hoards of the miserably successful, who became that way after the wrong doors opened for them.

The point is to think long-term and big-picture. The disappointment that just killed your day could be the best thing for you in the long run, as disappointments often are.

Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.

~ Steve Maraboli


Keep Yourself in Motion

I love my fellow artists, I really do.

But it's maddening to hear them say things like I submitted my images but haven't heard back yet. Still waiting.

Why not pounce on something else in the meantime?

Why wait by the phone only to feel crushed when the call doesn't come? 

Three or more possibilities in the works will keep you energized, and improve your odds of success. Imagine a high school student chasing the dream colleges and the safe colleges at the same time. Aim high and play it safe; you'll be surprised how often the big opportunities go your way.

Know What You're Really After

How to Handle Rejection as an Artist-Blog Post by Christopher Gallego-Featured Artist Zoey Frank

Zoe Frank
Houseplant on Tiles, 2017
Oil on panel, 16 x 16 in.

Marketing gurus recommend a five-percent customer conversion rate for businesses. Same goes for individuals. So if you’re getting one result out of twenty attempts, then guess what?

You are succeeding.

Two for twenty means you’re killing it. Consider the numbers:

Ten open-call submissions a year, each with a $40 entry fee, means a $400 yearly investment in your life’s passion. That’s the cost of a few average restaurant dinners you can easily live without (a Disneyworld ticket is $115). The cost of these shows is no reason to avoid them.

And the best part?

Your exhibition list will grow faster than you realize.

The first goal for any emerging artist is to build a resume–your gateway to future shows, sales, and opportunities. No one asks about your failures and you don’t have to share them. You’ll forget them yourself in time.

Ignore the Haters

One harsh reality is that no matter how talented you are and no matter how hard you work there are folks out there who won’t like your art. Some will actually hate it.

Let that sink in for a moment.
Some people will hate your work.

What a completely dreadful thought. It seems so cruel and unfair.

Yes, some will love your art, but they’re the minority. And I know how pessimistic this sounds, but it isn’t. It’s simply the nature of art, which is one of the most personal and subjective things there is.

You’ll always have your fans. They’re the ones who feel your work speaks to them, personally and directly. Who feel your work belongs to them, whether they own it or not.

Who think of you as their artist.

And these, fellow artists, are the people we want in our lives. Which brings us to the next tip:

Narrow Your Focus

I know someone who sells over half his output to just six collectors. You read that right.

For decades, the same six people have consistently bought this artist’s work, which isn’t cheap, for themselves and for others. The other 7.7 billion people on the planet don’t matter to him.

Because painters aren’t like writers or screen actors who need a million adoring fans. A small, loyal following and few solid relationships, and you’re set.

So focus on those who could potentially love your work (I’d recommend more than six). If they respond, keep them posted on your new work and activities. The rest of the world you can forget–you can’t be everything to everyone and your time is precious.

Final Thought:
Toughen Up

How to Handle Rejection as an Artist-Blog Post by Christopher Gallego-Featured Artist Dean Fisher

Dean Fisher, Painting in Big Sur, CA

This is the business we’ve chosen.
~ Hymen Roth

Artists are sensitive, vulnerable creatures. We wouldn’t have anything to express otherwise.

But we’re seldom credited for toughness, a critical trait for anyone forging a career. The reality is that some of the world’s greatest talents were the most stubborn, persistent S.O.Bs that ever wielded a brush.

Maybe they were born that way. Or maybe they were toughened by years of persistence.

Either way, as unpleasant as it sounds and to the point of this post, practice being rejected.

Just let it happen. Let the door slam in your face so many times that it doesn’t faze you anymore. Desensitize that fragile side as you put your art, and yourself, out into the world.

If you’re an introvert, it helps to remember all the wonderful talents who were just like you and went for it anyway.

How to Handle Rejection as an Artist-Blog Post by Christopher Gallego-Image-Robin Williams

Yes, rejection sucks and everyone hates it.

But it won’t kill you.

And it doesn’t have to hold you back.

Its only power is that it will tempt you to conform, but only if you let it.


8 thoughts on “How to Handle Rejection as an Artist

  1. I kept putting myself down because only family/friends are buying my stuff, but it all hangs in their homes so they must like it and love me at the same time. Of the 40 or so paintings I have completed almost half hang in someone’s home. of course there are a few – a lot actually – members of the family who still have to buy but I’ll concentrate on the ones that love what I do. Thanks for this – Inspiring

  2. One way I’ve dealt with rejection over the years is to tell myself, that the opinion of this individual is such a minor event when compared to the importance of my inspiration. To allow this entity to crush or in any way affect my inspiration, would be a real shame.

  3. Love this! Made me think of the Nora Ephron quote I say to myself on a daily basis. “I belong to the Church of “Get over it”!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *