We all know what rejection feels like. It’s a part of everyone’s life. As artist, it is ten-fold. Submitting work to juried shows, current portfolios to retail galleries and proposals for exhibitions to art centers can be an exhausting process. And it never ends. An artist is constantly (and hopefully consistently) submitting their work to all the channels in the art world. It is a numbers games of sorts. I read that the average success rate of getting accepted into a retail gallery is roughly 1 – 2%. That means that for every 100 galleries that an artist submits their work to, they will be accepted into 1 or 2! That’s a lot of rejections. I am no stranger to these rejections. It can be very discouraging and it is challenging to not take the rejection personally. The key is to move on and not show your ugly side.
I try to make it a humbling experience and move on to the next opportunity quickly. I recently submitted work to a local juried show that featured a guest juror who happens to be a curator for a certain museum in the big town of NYC. I thought I was a shoe-in.”Hey, this will be really cool to be a part of this show, plus it’s something great to put in my C.V.” “My work is fresh and contemporary -the juror won’t expect this type of work coming from Athens, GA – they’ll love this” “Holy cow, what if the juror loves my work and I get offered a solo show in the Big Apple!” were all thoughts that ran through my head.
Then, the email came. The form rejection letter. “Thank you for submitting…There was a ton of great work…Unfortunately, your work was not chosen…Please submit again” I was shocked. Not one of the three pieces (the maximum an artist could submit) was accepted. Totally floored. Not only was my head out of the clouds and back on earth, I was under the earth’s crust, engulfed in it’s magma. I couldn’t believe it. I cried to my wife. I honestly did. I boo-hooed all over her and she had to deal with my sulking for a week. Even with all the rejections I have received over the years, I don’t think one hit me like this one. Having just recently taken the plunge as full-time artist and seeing this glimmer of artistic acceptance snatched right in front of me was truly devastating. There was an article in the local paper covering the exhibit and they quoted the director basically saying the show was an artistic who’s who of Athens, GA. What? I’ve been an Athenian for almost 10 years now and busting my ass making art where-ever and whenever I could at all hours! After and before my day jobs – on my lunch break. I’ve sold work to great collectors in town, exhibited at ATHICA, Athfest, Classic Center and all the local haunts. I’m an Athenian Artist, dang it! I saw all my peers post their acceptances. I sincerely congratulated them, but I felt totally left out. Like the last kid whom neither captain wants to pick for their team in a game of dodgeball. I saw the photos from the night of the reception that I was too distraught to attend. It seemed everyone got accepted into the show but me. Was there something wrong with me? Was it a conspiracy? Was it rigged?
And this is where I had to stop myself. All that doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t. I thank my wife and brother for listening to me express my thoughts on this seemingly artistic roadblock. Their flippant attitude towards the exhibition (not towards my feelings) was refreshing. Not belittling my feelings, but expressing a carefreeness to the juror and the show helped me see it as just that. A show. It’s just one show. One show of hundreds more to come. This isn’t a roadblock or a setback. Just like all artists, I’ll get into a few and I won’t get into a lot – this was just one in the “a lot” pile.
The day came for the artists to pick up their work that was not accepted into the show. My wife and I went to go pick up my work and also check out the show. My wife and I were in the back room with one of the volunteers looking for my 3rd piece when my wife saw some work that she recognized. It was the work of a local artist who does amazing work, is a well-known Athens fixture and further in their career than I. My wife happens to be a fan of this artist’s work and saw their 3 pieces. Uncontrollably shocked, my wife exclaimed, “WOW! ‘So-and-so’ didn’t get into the show?!” The volunteer said, “Yeah, I know, lots of great artists didn’t get into the show”. While moving my work out we happened to run into the other artist and we briefly met and helped them move their work to their car. We all talked for a bit and I was immediately calmed by their carefreeness towards not getting a single piece into the show. The truly wonderful take-home is that I made another connection. I met another artist who’s work I admire and has a great attitude. This is the win. After all, what’s is all worth at the end of the day? Do I bitch and moan about how I didn’t get into a show or do I observe the love and support that my wife is giving me? I’ll remind myself of this experience the next time my work is not accepted. Do I still wish I was in the show? Sure, but there’s no time to dwell on it. There are bigger and better shows in my future.
“Random Access Memory”
oil on wood