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How to Deal With Rejection as an Artist

Christopher GAllego: Nest, Detail, Oil on Wood Panel

Nest, detail
Oil on wood panel

A Boo is a Lot Louder Than a Cheer

~ Lance Armstrong

Christopher Gallego
February 3, 2020   7  Comments


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

Rejection.

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.

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

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

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

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


First, Invite Humiliation

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

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

It means 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.

Example:
A writer 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 advise 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 succeed or you'll rebound 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 heartbreaking disappointments in your life or career have enabled something wonderful to happen? Think of all the high achievers who rebounded and triumphed after they failed:

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

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

On the flip side are the hoards of the miserably successful, who got that way because 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 that could happen to you, 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 things like, I submitted my images but haven't heard back yet; still waiting.

Waiting?

Why not jump 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

Zoe Frank
Houseplant on Tiles, 2017
Oil on panl, 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 and 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 price of a few so-so 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 more quickly 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 mention them. You'll forget them yourself in time.


Ignore the Haters

One harsh reality is that no matter how hard you work, no matter how talented you are, no matter how rigorous your training, there are people out there who won't like your work.

Some will actually hate it.

Let that sink in for a second. People hating your work.

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

Yes, some people 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 in human experience. 

You'll always have your fans. They're the ones who feel your work speaks to them, directly and personally. 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 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 are irrelevant to him.

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 on your way.

So focus on anyone who could potentially love your work (I'd recommend more than six). If they respond, then keep them posted on your new works 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

Dean Fisher, Big Sur, CA


This is the Business We've Chosen

~Hymen Roth


Artists are sensitive, vulnerable creatures. We wouldn't be expressive otherwise.

But we're seldom credited for toughness or resilience, critical traits 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 mean anything to 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.
 
Christopher Gallego Blog Post: Rejection. Featured, Robin Williams

Yes, rejection sucks and we all hate it.

But it doesn'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.

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7 thoughts on “How to Deal With 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”!

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