20 March 2015

It's A Hard Knock Life

Old Country - 16x20" - Oil on linen

"My rejection at the Salon brought an end to my hesitation [to settle in Paris] since after this failure I can no longer claim to cope... alas, that fatal rejection has virtually taken the bread out of my mouth. "
- Claude Monet
I have written about the importance of setting goals in the past, and I’ve also written about the artists ego, but what I don’t think I’ve written much about is the head games that can happen, especially those revolving around rejection.

Who doesn’t remember the childhood experience of teams being picked for sports in school? Maybe you got chosen by the teacher to be the leader and pick the teams (the jury), but more often than not you were part of the pack jumping and dancing; thinking “pick me”, “pick me”! That horrifying feeling of standing there with all your classmates hoping beyond hope you’d be picked first. Then the sinking feeling as person after person is picked ahead of you. The self deprecating thoughts that start to enter your head. The feelings of worthlessness; of being unloved and not good enough. It’s heartbreaking to watch a child going through that.

 Those early rejections play into the experiences an artist faces today. Not being accepted, even into adulthood, hits at our very core of emotions and basic human need for love and acceptance. It is why, no matter how many successes an artist has, the rejections always sting at least a little, and tend to be remembered a lot longer than the successes.

Following a successful year in 2014, I had my goals set early for 2015. Some of my goals related to things I wanted to make submissions to. As it happened those things all fell early in the year. It also happened I received rejection notices from all of them within the same week. Normally I take rejection in stride. I know it is one juries opinion at that time, and given a different week or a different set of jurist’s, the outcome will be different. I also know the rejection isn’t a reflection of my work overall but of the suitability of those few pieces for that one event. Sometimes it isn’t even a reflection of those pieces, but is a numbers games where only so many pieces can be accepted and other artists have submitted work the jurists feel is stronger; and that is perfectly acceptable.

Even though I know all of this, sometimes I have falsely built up a whole story about the outcomes and benefits of being involved in one event or another, that I’ve placed too high of value on it. Because I’ve built it up so much in my mind, when the rejection comes it hits hard. When that happens I liken the mental and emotional process I go through to being much the same as a grieving person in letting go of the expectations and hopes. Do these thoughts seem familiar to you?

  1.  Denial: This rejection makes absolutely no sense. My work was perfectly suited for this event. There must be some mistake. Maybe someone has made a mistake and sent me the wrong letter. Surely they will sort it out soon enough.
  2. Anger: Who was the jury? Surely they don’t know anything about art. To heck with them. I don’t need to be a part of their silly little event. I’ll show them and be successful without them.
  3. Bargaining: Your internal conversation starts asking “what if I’d written a better statement (asked a higher/lower price) (submitted different work) (spent more time on those paintings)”. Next time, I promise to do …….. if I get accepted.
  4. Depression: This is the most dangerous stage of the process; and it is the state where many people go first and then get stuck. The voice starts saying “I’m not good enough”, “I should get a real job”, “I’m never going to make it as an artist”…… Often, this is when we quit painting altogether at least temporarily. We walk around in a funk, our confidence so shaken we dare not even try to show up at the easel.

    It is here where you need to reach down deep and rationalize the effect this one (or in my case three in one week!) rejections really have on your career. This is where you need to honestly look at the story you built up in your mind about being involved in this/these events. When you wake up tomorrow will you be more or less of an artist because of this? Sure it looks good on the resume to be accepted into some prestigious event, but is that event prestigious to your collectors, or is it only prestigious in your mind?

    Will the next person that buys your art care if you were in this exhibition or that? Probably not. What they will care about is that you are creating art from your soul, and it touches theirs.
  5. Acceptance: Only when you realize you can still have a career without whatever you were rejected from, can you move on and get back to work. This is when we set new goals, reprioritize our work, and take an honest look at where we’re at and what we need to do to reach that next level. This is where we get our confidence back. We form new ideas, work to improve our skills, and forge on with a stronger determination and resolve not to let future rejections shake us up so much. Until the next time…... 
It is easy to say “do not take rejection personally”; but it is personal. It means you have tried. The easier saying is “do not take rejection to heart”. Rejection notices means you are taking risks. You are putting yourself out there. You are TRYING! Keep trying; and when success comes celebrate it for all its worth!