Thursday, January 10, 2008

Getting Discouraged (Part 1 of 4) - Nancy Doyle

Nancy Doyle has written an extensive essay about a topic
with which all artists must cope at one time or another in
their careers. It will be posted over the next few days in four
consecutive parts: Today's segment is on "Rejection". The
remaining segments include: "Criticism" (including Dealing
with Criticism), "Being Discouraged about our Work",
and "The Solution". - Gwen Magee

Most, if not all, artists have times when they are discouraged about their work, or about how their work is received. Certainly if we look at artists from the past, many of the best ones struggled financially, emotionally, professionally, or all of the above. As sports players have slumps, artists go through periods that are fallow or difficult, when nothing seems to work, or we can't find the key, or we feel like we are laboring in obscurity. Society doesn't always embrace artists, who are left basically to fend for themselves, or art is perceived as a commodity, and there is talk about the "art market," the astronomically high prices for art of the past, etc., leaving the impression that the value of a work of art lies only in its investment potential.

It is a cliche that artists starve in garrets, and when they die their work may be sold for many millions of dollars. Van Gogh is a prime example of this; everyone knows how he labored in obscurity and finally in despair. Perhaps this is part of the charm of his mystique, and why people still line up to see his work; his vulnerability, like that of Marilyn Monroe, tugs at our heartstrings. Vincent may have committed suicide because his brother Theo, now married with a child, would no longer be able to support him. After Vincent's death, there was more interest in his work, and in fact the Paris art world would soon embrace work like Vincent's, for example that of Gauguin, Seurat, and Cezanne. So the thing is - maybe if Vincent had just hung in there a little longer, he may have finally found the success he craved, or at least the respect of his peers.
There are many artists who did not receive recognition or success in their lifetimes, or if they did finally arrive, it was shortly before their death, like Cezanne. Cezanne was able to rely on the estate left by his father, so he was relieved of the need to support himself with his work. Luckily for us, he didn't have to work in a bank; he was able to fully commit himself to his work, which was not comprehended by the average person.

There is the idea that art is not a "legitimate" type of work; that it is a frivolity best saved for spare time, etc., or a luxury for the wealthy. But for artists who have a vision that they are compelled to share, art isn't frivolity or luxury - it's a necessity. And for society, art is also a necessity, although this may not be realized by many. We are the spirit-keepers, the mirrors, the candles. And we need to become our own best friends - to believe in ourselves and what we do. And stick together, rather than compete with one another.

So, it can be tough to be an artist; but the job satisfaction is very high. Art uses the whole person - the soul, heart, body and mind. It is a healing activity that brings the joy of producing something meaningful, for the world. It is a magical process, even though it is hard to learn and sometimes difficult to do. I think the origins of art are very old; they say now that art-making may have started hundreds of thousands of years ago, even before homo sapiens evolved. There are gorillas and one elephant who paint, who supposedly love the activity. Maybe some think that this means the activity of art takes no intellectual ability; I take it to mean that art-making is a pre-literate activity coming from our deepest past, that all sentient creatures are capable of accessing their inner selves to produce art. The two gorillas who paint can also speak sign language, and both have described their paintings to humans. Their images are based on specific subjects, and painted with appropriate colors and style to depict that subject. The paintings resemble Abstract Expressionism, with bold colors and gestural strokes.

We paint and sculpt our dreams, our nightmares, our loved ones, our future, our past, beauty, heroism, sorrow, and much more - anything that can be imagined and imaged. As a Beethoven symphony is without words and still expresses a great deal, even to those who know little about music, so art is part of us all. Those of us who make art have a special honor, and an obligation to ourselves and others, to be true to ourselves and to share our vision.

This isn't always easy, and sometimes we get discouraged. This can be due to:


Artists can get rejected when they enter shows, submit their work to galleries or other venues, or unsuccessfully put their work up for sale.

When we are rejected from a juried exhibition, as we all will be, it is a real disappointment. We have created our best work, we have framed it, and we have paid a fee to enter the show. I can only speak about art in the United States, but here there are now a great number of good artists, many of whom have had formal training. The number of eligible artists applying for almost any show is usually very high; transversely, the number of exhibition opportunities is relatively small. A local art center, organization or gallery will hold a juried show, having the capacity to hang maybe 40 or 50 pieces, or less. Two thousand artists will apply; obviously most will be rejected, not necessarily because their work is under par. A juror has to make tough decisions; he or she brings their training, experience and taste to the jurying process. They may have a preference for Minimalist art, or figurative work; they may have little or no art training. (Sometimes a local person is hired, perhaps a knowledgeable architect or craftsperson, who chooses work based on their experience, or lack of it.) Sometimes a juror will select work that collectively combines to create a consistent theme, aesthetically, for instance non-objective work. (Juried shows, where each piece is created by a different artist, can often be a hodge-podge when hung; this is a "necessary evil," but a juror may prefer to hang pieces similar in style, framing, or even size or medium used. One way to deal with this situation is to enter shows selectively, choosing those where your work has a greater chance to be accepted. This can be done by joining art organizations which reflect your aesthetic viewpoint; some art centers may specialize in representational art, other organizations may focus in new, experimental work. By visiting these centers and shows, you may be able to see a certain style preference, or level of sophistication. The identity of the juror also may indicate what he or she will choose; a juror's preferences may be predicted beforehand. Sometimes the entry form for the exhibition will include a juror's background; if the juror is from New York City, this may indicate a preference for new art, whereas a local art teacher may indicate a more traditional approach.

If you are rejected by the juror(s), and visit the show after it has been hung, the work there may explain to you why you were rejected. If you are a painter of flowers, and the juror has selected Minimalist paintings and sculptures, you will have your answer (or vice versa). I have gone to a show a couple of times, and found work that I considered more traditional than mine, or less competent. For the latter, we just need to be philosophical - these things just happen in life sometimes. Sometimes, there is no explanation as to why our work is not chosen; it could be anything - the juror had a headache that day, she doesn't like the color red, he doesn't care for abstraction, etc. Just as we can be rejected in life, our work can be rejected. Try not to take it personally, or be offended; try to be philosophical about it, and try to focus on the shows you have a better chance of getting into. This may take some work and some time, but hang in there - there is a place for almost any type of art, you just need to find it. You might have better luck joining the local art center; they often have both juried and non-juried shows; the non-juried, usually called members' shows, hang every work submitted. (Usually a member can submit up to two pieces.)

Many organizations also hold annual shows, often for fundraising purposes, such as colleges, nonprofit groups, and charity groups. Look for advertisements of these in your local newspapers, or check the bulletin boards at art centers and organizations for "call for entries." If you hear about a show, call the organization and ask how to submit your work for review for inclusion. When a show's purpose is fundraising, they may not care as much about the quality of your work, as about how well it will sell. (They are all about raising money; a local fundraising group stated upfront that they didn't care how good your work was, they only cared whether or not it would sell.) Usually, a group will want to see slides of your work, or the originals, to see if your work will help them raise money, or appeal to their potential buyers. In this case, show them your most "saleable" work; from my experience, this could be florals, beaches, landscapes, or other appealing subject matter. But you can also bring a couple of things that are your specialty, perhaps unique to your work. Try to show them your best work.

There are also local art festivals, especially outdoors in the spring and summer; again, keep an eye on your local paper to catch these. These are usually not juried. Usually you can rent a space or stall for one or two days, where you sit all day and try to sell your work. These are fun, but can also be disappointing if your work is not all that commercial. Usually, smaller paintings and prints sell better here. I can remember sitting at a festival all day, and no one even stopped to look at my work; at the end of the day, the guy next to me who painted images on velvet had a big wad of cash to show for his day. (These experiences humble us; that may not always be a bad thing. It makes us really appreciate the highs when they come.)

If your work has been accepted and hung, is for sale and not bought, this can also bring a feeling of letdown. Again, try to aim for the best venue for your work - where it fits in best. And don't let it get you down for long!

To be shown in a gallery, we also usually have to show our slides, or our original work. You can also shop for a gallery; visit all the galleries in your area, hopefully more than once, to get an idea of where your work would fit in best. Then call the gallery you choose, to ask them what their slide review process is; if possible, make an appointment to show them your work. Some galleries request that you mail slides to them for review; this may take awhile to hear back from them. Make sure your slides are professionally done, either with a good camera yourself, or have a professional photographer take the slides. Usually a slow-speed film is good for this purpose; I think 64 ASA is the slowest color film now. It comes in indoor and outdoor; make sure you choose the right film for taking indoor or outdoor pictures. Number and label the slides, with your name, title of work, medium and date; try to include work done mainly in the last three years. Make a list of your slides, corresponding to your labeled slides, with the same information. If you are showing sculptures, you can include more than one view of each piece. A resume may also be requested; make sure you have a resume typed in a professional manner. A resume can include your education and specialized art training, your teaching or professional experience, relevant groups of which you are a member, and a list of exhibitions in chronological order, listing name of the organization or exhibition, location and year held.

Galleries tend to accept your work on commission, meaning they will hang it, and if it sells, you will receive payment. Galleries take a sales commission, usually between 35% and 90% - the average is about 50%, so set your prices accordingly. Some galleries have rotating exhibitions, usually on an invitational basis. A gallery can decide not to show your work; again, this may be due to a stylistic preference on the part of the gallery. Many galleries also are more concerned with profit margin than with quality; they may reject your work because they feel their clientele would not be interested in buying it. Don't assume that the gallery personnel are knowledgeable in art; they may be, they may not be. Don't take it personally if they decline to show your work; like a blind date, it may just not be meant to be! Try another gallery - don't give up! (Don't EVER give up, if you really believe in what you are doing.)

In summary, the best of us have been rejected: Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, de Kooning, and on and on! Don't let it get to you - it's OK if it slows you down for a little while, but don't let it stop you, if you really, really want to be making art. See The Solution, below. [NOTE: "The Solution" will be available in Part IV]

To read this article in its entirety without having to wait
for me to post the other 3 segments:
To learn more about Nancy Doyle and to view her art:

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