Oil on Panel
Chances are, if you’re trying to make it as an artist, you’re well acquainted with rejection.
You've entered your favorite painting into a juried show and gotten an emphatic NO… That gallery that would be the perfect fit just isn't interested in taking on more artists… The museum show you’re dying to break into just doesn't think your work is quite there yet…
It’s the worst, isn't it?
Sure, there might be a couple of superstars out there who have made it big without suffering rejection, but if there are, I haven’t met them. Chances are, most of your favorite painters have been rejected more than you think. After all:
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried”
– Stephen McCranie
I wanted to talk about a couple of different topics related to rejection here, just because I find they come up a lot in conversation with my students and friends.
The Positive Side of Rejection
We live in this age of social media where we’re constantly bombarded by people’s announcements of their show acceptances, new galleries, even sales. I love seeing people’s success on display – it’s inspiring – but it doesn't show the whole story. For every acceptance that an artist is posting on Facebook, they probably have quite a few rejections as well. But rejection doesn't sell, so no one’s talking about it. No one wants to talk about it.
I do, because I think it’s part of the whole picture.
A while back, I posted a picture of my many juried show rejections in an attempt to be transparent and encouraging. I get emails every once in a while from people who think I’m crazy to put my rejections out there in public in front of everyone, and suggest I take that post down. Personally, I think that’s bunk – I have a strong resume, I work with great galleries, my paintings are selling well. I work hard to build my brand and increase the value of my work, but I see no need to pretend I've never been rejected.
Without rejection, I wouldn't be the painter I am today. It’s what spurs me on to improve. It’s the honest feedback I need that tells me every once in a while that I’m still not where I want to be.
When you get rejected, USE IT.
Don’t get bitter, don’t get mad, don’t give up on entering shows. Spend a day wallowing in your dejectedness, then focus your energy on transforming that feeling into something positive. Use all of that energy you might use being bitter, and instead go hit the studio and analyze your paintings. Think hard. Figure out what you need to improve. If you can’t figure it out, ask someone you respect to give you a critique. Then, go to work. Paint until you've figured it out. It might take a while, and it might be frustrating, but paint until your paintings are better.
This is one of the most important skills you can have as an artist. Take that negative input, and use it as a catalyst to make better paintings. It will make you a better painter, I promise.
Embrace rejection for the gift it can be.
The Numbers Game
I was invited to be on the jury for a couple of national shows this year, and jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to see what jurying looks like from the other side, and quite frankly – it was eye-opening. I will never feel quite so sensitive about being rejected from a big show again, and for that I’m extremely grateful for the experience. I wanted to share some behind the scenes info to give you an idea of what you’re up against when you enter a big show, in hopes that it might help you process the outcome a little bit differently in the future.
First, when you enter a big national show, there are usually thousands of entries, and only a small percentage get accepted. I know you know that already, but I want to put it into perspective for you with some real numbers, from a real show.
The first show I juried this year had 2,200 entries. In the first round, the jurors basically said “yes” or “no” to each painting. The 500 paintings with the most “yes” votes made it onto round two of jurying. In round two, the jurors scored each painting on a scale, and their scores were then averaged to determine the top 200 paintings for the show.
When I ranked the top 500 for round two, I was amazed at the quality of the work submitted. When I looked at my final scoring summary, I had given over 350 paintings scores that I considered high enough to say, “this painting absolutely deserves to be in the show!” Only 200 of those got in. If you do the math, over 40% of the paintings I considered good enough for the show didn't make the cut. When I saw the final show, I was bummed that some of my favorite paintings had not made it (the jury’s results are averaged).
What does that mean to you?
Well, you might enter your best painting, and it might indeed be good enough to be in the show, but it might not make the cut anyway. There just isn't enough space for all of the good paintings to make it. The higher the caliber of the show, the more this is true.
The takeaway? Work to make your paintings so good that they can’t be rejected. Not just good, but GREAT.
Out of those 500, I gave about 25 the highest possible score. To me, those paintings were an absolute, no questions asked, emphatic YES! They were modern masterpieces.
It’s the same thing with galleries. Yeah, you get rejected when your work isn’t strong enough. But sometimes you’re the person who gets rejected because they already have too many landscape painters, or they have another person who uses thick paint, or they simply don’t have space for another painter.
Approach it the same way – make your paintings so good that they can’t be rejected. Not just good, but GREAT. I don’t know a gallery out there that wouldn’t jump at the chance to carry someone that they consider to be a master. They’ll make room, if you’re all that. So get to work, and try to BE all that.
Don’t focus on that other artist they carry who isn't as good as you, or that person who got into the show with their best painting even though the rest of their work is awful. Focus on YOU. Focus on your WORK. And get better.
The Moral of the Story?
We all get rejected, I promise. It’s what we do with it, that determines where we go.
Go forth, be positive, and USE IT.