Sunday, May 3, 2015

Handling The Sting of Rejection

I'm going back to basics for a bit... just drawing in my sketchbook.
I've had plenty of time to build up a thick skin. As an artist, you have to. No matter how brilliant your work is, there are going to be people that don't like it, people that think you should do it differently, people who are going to walk by and not even glance at it. You'll have people tell you that their 5 year old did a painting better than that one. Or that their sister paints, and she's really good (implying that you are not). Everybody's got an opinion, and if you put yourself out there, you are going to hear them. You can trust me on this one.

So, why is it that every rejection still stings? Every refusal for entry into an art fair, every juried show I fail to get into, every gallery that turns me down. Ouch. It's not that i'm super sensitive. There are plenty of people out there that don't particularly "get" my work, and I'm ok with that. I've long since accepted that there are loads of artists around whose work is way better than mine, there will be shows my work won't fit into, and that entry into these things hinges on the opinions of one or two people who may or may not like what I do. Not to mention that for the more prestigious juried shows, there are hundreds of entries and space for maybe 40 pieces. No matter how good your work is, the odds are still stacked against you. 

My son is in the process of applying to universities. He worked his butt off getting his grades up, putting together his portfolio, painstakingly answering each question on the way-too-long questionnaires. He's had interviews with admissions committees (yes, committees), and gone on campus tours. Still, in the shadow of a looming high-school teachers strike, he still hasn't heard if he's been accepted. The waiting is killing him. And I worry about the kid's fragile ego if he doesn't get into his top choice. 

As a creative person, how can you build resilience? It's an important quality to cultivate. You can't curl up in a ball and give up the first time you're turned down, or you'll never accomplish anything that really matters to you. Fear of rejection can turn into a prison of your own making… it will never serve you. 

I have found having a strong social network helps. I belong to a local art group, and we get together once a month to catch up on what everyone is doing. We do shows together, go to each others events, help out when we can… everyone is very supportive of each other. I also belong to a few online communities, both on Facebook and G+. And the art community on Twitter is pretty cool, and has led to a few opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise had access to. Creative people know how hard it is to thrive in a world so focused on material wealth. You might run into the occasional person who hoards their knowledge or resources, but they are few and far between. Generally speaking, we like to share. 

Flexibility is also a pretty important trait. Experience can teach you that there can be many paths to get to the same result. It certainly can help you recover after a setback… if you didn't succeed this time, it probably just means you didn't take the right approach. Try going about things a different way… maybe try a smaller group show instead of that big juried deal that everyone else applies to. Or maybe next time submit that abstracted painting you've been working on, instead of that realistic piece your husband loves, but you don't really feel you put your heart into. Or hell, just try again. There will likely be different people choosing next time, and you just never know.

I think the most important thing is that you believe in yourself as an artist. My son loves to make music and experiment with sound, and I'm pretty confident that he'll keep doing that no matter what happens with the school situation. He has watched me keep going year after year, working a job to pay the bills and doing what I love in whatever time I can scrape together. It's important to me, and I wouldn't be who I am without it. He knows the only way to get what you want is to keep working for it. I'm glad I could teach him that. 

And in the face of rejection, we'll wallow for a day, take a deep breath, and try again.