Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When rejection comes to town

I’ve written a number of blog entries about the subject of rejection, an issue that artists confront all the time.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I am coming to view rejection in a more circumspect way than ever before. True, it can hurt your feelings when you’re rejected. It’s only human to look at the folks who were accepted for an opportunity and think, “What have they got that I ain’t got?” (Other typical reactions include beating the table with your fist or digging a spoon deep into a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.)

Last week I was rejected from an exhibition opportunity. Or rather, I experienced the newest version of rejection: “We only contact those who are accepted.” So on notification day, I clicked on my email inbox and heard the crickets chirp. I admit, in my fantasies, I was hoping the juror would take one look at the artwork I had entered, gasp with awe, clutch his throat, and instantly assign me the most visible wall in the gallery. But that didn’t happen.

Surprisingly, though, a realization presented itself to me as I stared at the “Your inbox is empty” message. It occurred to me that REJECTION IS AN OPPORTUNITY. It isn’t meant to hurt you. It is meant to serve as a roadmap for you to follow.

You see, I truly believe that every artist who is sincere about creating work that is an honest reflection of her experience, and who works with reasonable diligence to get this work out into the world, WILL find the right opportunities. The key is to find the RIGHT venues, based on your individual goals as an artist, and where your work fits in naturally and best.

So if you are making human-sized catnip mice out of felt as a statement about animal abuse, there is no sense in applying to show at the gallery inside the frame shop down the street. The frame shop owner might be a devoted cat-lover, and a sincere admirer of your work, but it doesn’t fit into his shop, literally or conceptually, and your application will be “rejected.”

If you are painting watercolors of the roses in your summer garden, there is no sense in applying to the stadium-sized avant-garde exhibition space in town. Not that your work isn’t wonderful -- there are many viewers who would be charmed by it – but your small studies would be lost in that giant space, and would not fit in with that particular gallery’s aesthetic.

I am starting to be truly honest with myself about where my work fits and where it doesn’t fit. And that doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong for not fitting in to certain venues, it just means that it doesn’t fit, and it’s time to devote my energy to figuring out where it DOES fit. Because when it does fit, there is a beautiful synergy. The work complements the space; the space complements the work; and the administration, the audience, and the artist have a satisfying experience.

My job is to look at my work honestly, do my research thoroughly, and not get hung up on victim-oriented thoughts along the lines of, “He got in, why didn’t I? She shows there, why don’t I?” With these practical actions, and a little faith and luck thrown in, the key in your hand WILL open the right door.

ETA: A friend who also entered the juried show I referred to in this post told me that there were 1,200 entrants!


Barbara said...

So true! Thanks for the post.

K. R. Seward said...

Thank you, Barbara, I've gotten a lot of feedback on this one, from folks who've been there too!