Rejection: Playing The Game - Marilyn Noble
Sometimes the universe tests us with rejection; life asks us if we are confident enough in ourselves and our creations to keep going in the face of obstacles. . . .While we must be open to feedback, we must also hold a faith that supersedes the opinions of those who do not agree with us. If you believe in something enough, you will not be put off by obstacles or setbacks. - Alan Cohen
The invitation arrives in the mail and your heart skips a beat. You’ve been asked to submit a piece for jury consideration for the biggest museum show in your area. You’ve just finished a work that you know is perfect. It’s a shoe-in. You fill out the application, enclose the slides, and send them off, confident you’ll be accepted. You envision your piece in glossy splendor on the pages of the show catalog; you imagine yourself stepping forward to receive the Best in Show award. Fame and glory follow. Your career is made.
Several weeks later the letter comes in the mail. “Dear Artist,” it begins. “We regret to inform you. . .” You’re crushed. You berate yourself. I’m so stupid, How did I think I could possibly get into a show like that? Then you get angry. The jurors are idiots. They obviously don’t understand good work. You vow to get even. I’ll show them. I’ll never create another piece of sculpture again. And I’ll never set foot in that museum again either. You rationalize. I’m sure they had to play the political game and accept work from the director's third cousin and their big donors. They didn’t have room for me.
Once the initial emotions have finished racing through your heart and head, what’s your next step? Do you dash off an angry letter to the director of the museum, thus ensuring you’ll never be invited to show there? Do you moan and complain to everyone you know, convincing your family, friends and colleagues that you’re a spoiled diva? Do you give up, believing your work will never be good enough? If you stay stuck in those unproductive emotions, you’ll never achieve the level of success you desire, a level many of your less talented colleagues may surpass.
Professional artists know rejection is part of the game -- it happens to everybody. The difference between satisfying success and bitter failure is how you handle it. Rejection always hurts, but accepting the pain and moving on is critical to building your career. How do you do that?
- Turn loose of your work. As with a child that you bring into the world and raise, at some point you have to let go. Your children move into other relationships in life, and so must your art. You can still love the pieces you create, but allow others to love them, or not, as well.
- Realize your work is not You. Your work may be the deepest expression of your soul, but it’s not your soul. Rejection has little to do with you, and everything to do with the viewer. Jurors and others who examine your work do so through their own lenses of life experience. Sometimes they relate, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t mean they don’t like, admire, respect, or even know You.
- Rejection is not necessarily criticism. Galleries, jurors, and others who make choices about work make those decisions based on criteria about which you may not know. They may reject your work not because it’s poor quality, but because they have enough bronze figures, or abstract stone, or wood miniatures. Maybe it’s simply not a fit for the gallery or show. Much of the time it has nothing to do with your talent, your statement, or your creative expression.
- With criticism, accept what makes sense to you and ignore the rest. Everybody has an opinion, and most people don’t hesitate to express theirs. Consider the source of the criticism. If an art professional tells you your piece lacks proportion and gives you some ideas about fixing it, pay closer attention than you would to a collector who lives in a house full of ceramic frogs who tells you your abstract female figure doesn’t have any personality. It’s important to listen with an open mind, and then take an objective look at your work. If you can see how it would improve by incorporating someone’s suggestions, do it. If not, let the comments go.
- As my best friend says, honor the process. Continue to improve your skills, stay true to your vision, create your art, and send it out into the world. Let go of your attachment to the results. Sometimes you’ll feel the sting of rejection; other times you’ll feel the happiness of success. It’s all part of the journey. As in life, the journey is just as important as the destination.
- When all else fails, comfort yourself with the thought that every no leads one step closer to yes. You’ll learn to relish the rejection because you know acceptance is imminent. A writing friend of mine plays something he calls the Rejection Game. His aim is to collect one hundred rejection slips all while writing the best he can. He’s never reached the goal because he gets so many acceptances along with the rejections that he doesn’t have time to keep playing the game.
Dealing With Rejection – by Matthew Deleget and Sandra Indig
Rejection Article - David Walker
Understanding Rejection - Sylvia White