Access Denied: The Importance of Rejection

Rejection- we've all been there at one point or another. Whether it be from a magazine publication, exhibition/call-for-artist opportunity, or even something as crushing as a college or grad school application, we've all been denied access during our careers. It's the same every time, too. You see the email you've been waiting for, and then SHIT! You've been rejected! Sorry, pal. Not this time.

This isn't unique to artists, either- everyone has dealt with rejection on some level in their lives. I've been rejected from several opportunities this year (as in "damn near everything I've applied for" levels of rejection), and figured I'd come back to my blog with some tough love and hard truths about what it really means to work your ass off for your art, and how we can all benefit from a little rejection.

  My latest rejection email. Feels good, man.

My latest rejection email. Feels good, man.

Come to me, Sweet Angel of Death (Or exclusion, whatever..)

A good rule to set for yourself is to not only accept rejection, but to welcome it. So many makers take rejection as a personal attack on their work, thinking that, "Well, I'm not good enough to be in that show... That's why I didn't get in." That couldn't be further from the truth! What does rejection actually mean, if it doesn't mean our art is total shit?

It means several things and nothing, all at once. For starters, perhaps the curators simply had a vision in mind for the overall aesthetic of the show/publication/etc., and your work didn't fit within the look they were going for. They might have loved your piece, but if it didn't fit the overall vision in their head, the curator simply isn't going to choose a piece based on whether they like it or not. As shitty as it sounds, planning something like a magazine (or any other artist opportunity) isn't as cut and dry as "I like this" and "I don't like this". I personally love a lot of artwork that I'd never hang on my wall- does that make the art bad? Hell no! It just doesn't match the space I want to create for myself. 

Pick Your Poison Wisely

Considering this approach to the overall design or aesthetic of a show, a great rule of thumb to abide by when looking for opportunities is to research your curator. I've saved myself a lot of time, money and heartache by simply googling the curator associated with an application! Once you find that curator's instagram, website, etc., you'll see examples of the type of work that they're attracted to. If you think your work fits into that niche, then APPLY! If not, save your money and look for something else. There's plenty of opportunity for everyone, including you. Awhile back, I applied to a magazine called Fresh Paint Magazine- I was rejected. Why was that? Because I didn't research my curator, and stupidly sent my artwork in to a curator that wasn't looking for my particular style of work for that issue of the magazine. Once I realized this was one of the main reasons I was rejected (and hey, my art might have been shit, but this is what I'm telling myself!), I started researching curators. Another Call for Artists opened for the magazine soon after, curated by Alice Herrick of Herrick Gallery in London. Upon looking at her instagram, I saw that she had a particular affinity for Giorgio Morandi's work (have you seen his work? Have you seen mine? You get the idea.). When I saw this, I applied immediately. That was issue 11 of Fresh Paint, and my work is on page 35. (Fun fact, one of my studio mates from grad school, Josh Mitchel, is ALSO in that issue. He's a badass, go look him up. Now.)

Support Systems: Have One. Be One.

One thing I've learned in my time applying for (and getting rejected from) opportunities is to support the artists that do get accepted for said opportunity. Sure, when I received my first few rejections alongside those that didn't get the same emails, I was jealous as all hell. I didn't like feeling left behind, and blamed my own skillset for my demise. As I grew as a painter and a person (A painter person? A person painter? a painterson? Someone cut me off), I realized that the jealousy wasn't only toxic for my peers, but for myself as well. You can't feel good about your work if you spend more time hating someone else's for being what a curator wanted! When I get rejected from something now, I feel that initial sting, sure. But you know what I feel even more? I feel accomplished for shooting my shot and putting my work out there. Sure, I didn't get into the show or whatever, but someone saw it, and the money spent on the application helped the magazine/show/etc. pay for other things to ensure that we'll all be able to apply again someday!

If at First You Don't Succeed; Apply, apply again (when you're ready).

Remember- applying to something once isn't the end. I've applied to New American Paintings several times over the years, and have yet to get in. Keep applying! I know that sometimes money is an issue with applying to so many things (I always tell myself I'll be rejected from 100 things per year, but you know what? I never APPLY to 100 things, so I need to shut my trap until I actually do.), so look for free opportunities!! The above rejection? That was a free application. Seek out opportunities- don't sit around and wait for one to land on your lap. They can't land there if they don't know your lap is available for the landing. 

Another important part of keeping up with the application game is to apply when you're ready. What do I mean by this? I mean that several rejections of mine over the years actually had nothing to do with the curator's vision not matching my work, but my work not meeting the standards of the lady that made it. I've jumped the gun several times, applying for things with work that isn't fully developed (I don't mean it's unfinished- oh hell nah. I mean that I haven't hit my stride with the particular series yet, but applied anyway with a false sense of confidence, i.e., I was full of myself). Honestly? The Bombay Sapphire application above was a result of this. I knew the application was free, and instead of hustling to finish a painting that I knew I had better chances with, I applied with a newer piece in a series that isn't fully developed yet. Remember, knowing your shit helps you to avoid feeling like you're shit later on. ;) 

The Moral of the Story

All of these personal stories and motivational hullabaloo (let's have a round of applause- I spelled that right on the first try) have purpose- Don't allow your inner demons and/or critic tell you that you can't apply to things due to fear of rejection! Rejection is inevitable. Rejection is necessary in order to grow. "Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it." (thanks, Dali.) 

Do you. Make art. Apply to things when you're ready, and research the hell out of the opportunity and who's curating it. After that? Make more art. It doesn't come easier if you're not making.