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Artists: Rejection isn’t the Big Hideous Monster You Think it is

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...

Ah, rejection.

Kinda sucks, doesn't it?

A gallery or juror rejecting your art can leave you feeling like someone is dumping you.

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 drown in art submissions as they fight to stay in business. And grants, scholarships, and residencies go to just a small fraction of applicants.

More discouraging is that art world success is seldom predicated on talent.

That's because artists deal with the nebulous, like personal tastes, popular trends, egos, and a fickle market. All tossing merit right out the window.

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.) bit will share some personal tips that I find actually do work. 

I hope they keep you slugging away too.

First, Invite Humiliation

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 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.


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 fear public speaking (and who doesn'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 come away a little more resilient than you were before.

Know the Universe Makes No Mistakes

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

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

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

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

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

On the flip side are the hoards of the miserably successful. Who got that way because the wrong doors opened for them.

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

~Steve Maraboli

Stay in Motion

I love my fellow artists. But it's maddening to hear things like, I submitted my images, but haven't heard anything yet. Still waiting.


Why not jump on something else instead? 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 pursuing dream colleges and safe colleges at the same time. Aim high and play it safe; you'll be thrilled when the bigger opportunities go your way.

Know What You're After

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

Marketing gurus recommend a five-percent 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 price of a few average restaurant dinners you can 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 even realize.

The first goal for any emerging artist is to build a resume–your gateway to future shows, sales, and other opportunities. No one asks about your setbacks, 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 talented you are, no matter how hard you work, no matter how rigorous your training, there are people out there who won't like your art. Some will actually hate it.

Let that sink in for a second.

People will hate your art. 

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, one of the most personal and subjective things in the world. 

You'll always have your fans. 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 six collectors.

For two decades, the same people have been buying this artist's work, which isn't cheap, for themselves and for others. The other 7.7 billion who never heard of this guy, are irrelevant 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 on your way.

So focus on those who could potentially love your work (ideally, more than six). If they respond, keep them current 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 thought of as tough or resilient, critical for anyone forging a career. The reality is that some of the world's greatest artists 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 trying.

Either way, as unpleasant as it sounds, 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 everyone hates 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.

So what are your tips for dealing with rejection? Leave a comment below, or share if you enjoyed the post.


7 thoughts on “Artists: Rejection isn’t the Big Hideous Monster You Think it is

  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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