On Wednesdays Outside the Frame we discussed the topic of Rejection: Arch Nemesis or Ally? Rejection and how to survive it is the second most frequent question I receive from artists. The first most frequent question I get from artists, of course, is how do I price my art. Rejection is a fundamental aspect to the business of selling art. Every artist I have ever known, the seasoned and emerging alike, have received at least one rejection over the course of their careers. The majority of artists, myself included, have received a number of rejections. Many successful artists continue to receive rejections after they’ve “made it” in the art world. Nothing is more frustrating to artists than rejection and while success may soften the sting of rejection, it does not eliminate it.
I remember my first rejection as if it had been sent yesterday but in fact it was way back in 1989. My first competition – The Artist’s Magazine’s annual competition.
It’s funny I remember the rejection well but cannot remember which painting I had actually entered! This is not so unusual as I know many artists who have experienced the same type of memory lapse. The rejection was a plain white 3 by 5 index card with the typed note “Dear Artist, Thank you for your submission(s) to The Artist Magazine but your work(s) was not accepted. Sincerely, The Artist Magazine.” Talk about your form-letter rejections!
I look at this fading index card tacked on my bulletin board in my studio and see it very differently than I did when I first received it. I look at it now with a certain fondness – a badge of honor – my first rejection. Of course, when I first received it; I injected all sorts of meanings into the brief 21-word rejection. Such as … my work must have been truly awful if all they could muster was this crappy index card as a response to it. Now, after having served as an art juror myself, I see it exactly for what it is – a speedy, efficient and cost-effective means to communicate to the artist the fact that their work had not been accepted as a finalist.
There are a number of reasons as to why a particular work is rejected and rarely is it an indication as to the quality of the art. However, that is the first thought that comes into the artists head … my work wasn’t good enough. For instance, my second rejection, also early in my career, came from a local art guild for an open juried exhibition – my work was not accepted because my frame was 1” larger than the size requirement stated on the prospectus. From this rejection, I learned a very valuable lesson – always read the prospectus and follow the submission requirements to the letter!! Had I not been rejected, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to learn that lesson. So you see, rejection can be an ally even though it is most often regarded as an arch-nemesis.
When I served as an art juror, one-fourth to one-third of the works submitted had to be rejected outright because the artist did not adhere to the submission guidelines. This was not a one-time incident either, this happened for every show. Therefore, it’s important to remember that your chance of being rejected is decreased significantly when you follow the submission guidelines, rules and instructions. A little insight into the jury selection process may help to alleviate some mystery surrounding the “juried exhibition”. An art juror can serve individually or as a committee – usually an odd number to eliminate ties. Sometimes the art will come to us pre-sorted with the initial cut of those works that did not adhere to submission guidelines or competition rules already removed from consideration. Sometimes the jury is responsible for even these early cuts. Usually, the show will have some sort of general theme and this further helps us to zero in on the works that reflect that theme the best. After this point in the selection process, the jurors will begin to be subjective in their selections – much like choosing clothing; each will have their particular tastes and will choose pieces based on those tastes. The challenge, therefore, is to get all the jurors to agree either unanimously or by majority on each piece of art that they view. As you can imagine, it does take some time to get everyone to agree especially when jurors feel strongly about particular pieces.
Another instance where you are prone to receive rejection is when submitting to an art gallery, dealer, or representative for a portfolio review. Most gallery rejections come in the form of a letter stating that your work is just “not a good fit” for them. Well, what exactly does that mean? It depends. I bet you weren’t aware that there are actually degrees of rejection especially when dealing with a gallery or dealer.
The first degree or level of rejection is the Definite No. This usually is stated, “We feel your work is not right for the gallery. Thank you for thinking of us and good luck with your career.”
The second degree or level of rejection is the Not at Present. This is usually stated, “We feel that while you work does not fit into the schemes of any exhibitions that we have planned, we like your work …” The sentence usually ends with something to the effect of keep in touch. When you receive this type of rejection, you really should make every attempt keep in touch, as they want to see what type of relationship will transpire.
The third degree or level of rejection is the Maybe. This is the one that is the most frustrating for artists as they are taken to the next step but are not actually accepted. This is usually stated, “We believe that your work can be a fit for our gallery but need to see more.” Setting up an appointment for a visit to the gallery to show your work in person, if geographically possible, usually follows this sentence. It is possible to make it through to this stage and still be rejected.
Some of the reasons for rejection are:
* They love the work but do not have the customer base to support it.
* They may already represent an artist whose work is very similar to your own.
* They cannot reach agreement – one partner or committee member may like your work while another does not.
* The price may be too high or too low for the gallery’s customer base.
Now that we know the ways in which can be rejected, let’s talk about ways to appropriately handle rejection. First, do not give up. Avoid pinning all your hopes for your career on one possible outcome. When you do this you hand over all power to the person who is rejecting you. Which leads me to my second point. Consider who is rejecting you. Did you submit your work to the proper type of gallery for your work? Did you follow all submission procedures? Is it a new gallery with a relatively new director? I bet it never occurred to you that it could be the gallery director’s inexperience that is the reason behind rejecting you and not your level of expertise. This person may not be up to the challenge of marketing your type of work.
Most often artists get so dejected or angry when they are rejected that they cannot effectively analyze whether the rejection they received is an indication that something is lacking in their work or whether it is because of marketplace forces or other reasons beyond their control.
Many feel ashamed of being rejected but in truth, a history of being rejected speaks to your professionalism – it shows that you are committed to your career. Nicolas Cage said this, "If you decide to be an actor, you’re going to be dealing with rejection your entire life. And you really have to ask yourself if you want it that bad. That’s almost as important as your talent. How bad do you want it?"
That really is the question of the hour. How bad do you want it? Because things change such as a new gallery director bringing new ideas and a new focus to a gallery suddenly, your work fits in. Or that gallery is no longer representing the artist with work similar to your own so there is room in their roster for you. Another possibility is that you style may evolve into something that is more to their liking. If you do not stay in touch with the gallery or do not attempt to submit again after being rejected, you will have missed an opportunity.
Remember with any submission, you have a 50-50 chance of getting a yes. You increase those odds significantly by targeting the right venue for your work. Success is a gamble but certain is the path that leads to failure when one chooses not to try. So you should accept rejection as part of the process, stop viewing it as an arch-nemesis and start viewing it as an ally.
Thank you to Shell Auker from Rose Garden Fibers for being such a dedicated listener and frequent BHR chatroom attendee. You can read about the Outside the Frame Listener Appreciation Drawing winner for June here. Thank you to Shane Cox for provided the music at the opening and closing of my show. And a very special thank you to all the artisans who have contributed to the 48forLarry Silent Auction and an additional plea to the artist community to Save the Artist, Save the World – support 48forLarry. Be sure to tune into next week's episode of Outside the Frame.