Friday, November 13, 2009

Further Thoughts on Rejection

My friend Ruth, a writer, and I often have conversations about our two favorite art forms, writing and painting. We often marvel at the overlaps and similarities... until today. In response to my blog post on rejection yesterday, she commented that this is one place where artists and writers differ a lot. She went on to explain that writers expect rejection. In fact, they welcome it and wear it as their badge of honor. After all, Ruth reminded me, all of the best and most famous writers were repeatedly rejected. Then she added that she looks upon her rejection letters--yes, she's had a few--as her "Certificates of Participation." In the words of Woody Allen, she said, "Ninety percent of life is just showing up." A rejection letter means she showed up. It means she took the courageous step of putting her very personal work out there, and whether it's well received or not, at least she knows she's done something most people never have the guts to do. That's so cool. We artists could take some lessons from those writer types.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on Rejection

Why do we always take rejection so personally?! We all do it. We automatically assume that if we didn't get the gallery/show/grant/press coverage/whatever that we applied for, it must mean our work is bad. And since our work is a direct reflection of who we are as people, that must mean we're unlikeable or undesirable or whatever. That makes it nearly impossible to not take it personally. Right?

Not true, people!! Having been the rejector quite often, I can tell you from honest experience, it's not true! Let's consider some possible scenarios.

Galleries. First, you have to understand how galleries work. Every single gallery out there has a well-defined group of people--called their target market--who they have nurtured as their customer base. The gallery director knows what those customers want and how much they'll pay for it. He or she is looking for artists whose work will appeal to that target market and bring them into the gallery and inspire them to buy. So among the many possible reasons a gallery director might reject an artist is because a) the artist's work is too different from what is in the gallery and won't appeal to the pre-defined target market (and widening the range of offerings will require too much of an investment of time and money to attract a broader audience), b) the artist's work is too similar to another artist already selling well in the gallery, c) the artist's work is at the wrong price level (either too high or too low) for the target market, or d) the gallery is representing the maximum number of artists they can comfortably handle. Notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with the quality of the artist's work.

Competitions. When a juror selects entries for a competition, he or she is usually curating a show, which means choosing a collective body of work that will look good together. So once the juror has picked out all the best pieces, he or she then has to look at them as a whole. There might be too many landscapes or too many figurative pieces, so good pieces are rejected to strike a better balance. Ditto for styles. Or maybe a really good piece just doesn't fit well with the rest. Or maybe there was a theme for the show, and a really good piece doesn't fit the theme. Notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with the quality of the artist's work.

Magazines and other press coverage. An art magazine editor goes through the exact same curatorial process when selecting artists to feature in future issues, with the extra consideration of what has recently been featured. An editor wants to offer variety, not near repeats. And of course, a major reason editors and producers of all types will reject a proposal is that the artist didn't offer a compelling "hook" or angle for the text part of the article. Notice how none of these reasons have anything to do with the quality of the artist's work.

My friends, in our fast-paced universe, no one is going to take the time to write a personalized note explaining why they rejected you from something. So you'll rarely--if ever--know why you've been rejected. But with so many possibilities, why assume it means your work is bad? Have faith in yourself, keep striving to be the best you can be, and always put your best work out there. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Self-Promotion Is Not An Imposition

This past weekend, I spent a lot of time with some artists talking about marketing, especially about the feelings and emotions involved in self-promotion. A few artists expressed concern about overdoing it, which is normal since nobody ever wants to come across as too pushy or arrogant. But one woman even mentioned that she feels like she’s imposing on people when she contacts them to request things like press coverage or gallery representation. While I respect her viewpoint, I encouraged her to look at self-promotion another way: Done right, we’re actually doing editors and gallery directors a service by letting them know we’re available.

Let’s look at things from their point of view:

Newspaper, magazine, and website editors, as well as TV and radio producers, have to find good stories to publish. Finding stories that will engage an audience is hard work. So imagine how happy and appreciative they will be when you send them a proposal about a compelling story – your story – that meets their needs! Your local news media editors will love it when you contact them and say, “I’m a local artist who is doing something really interesting in our community.” Likewise, how-to art magazine editors love it when you contact them and say, “I can write a feature that will teach your readers an exciting new technique I’ve developed.” When you present an editor with a specific, useful idea that will truly be of interest to their audience, you are doing them a favor and saving them a lot of work.

The same is true of gallery directors. They are always looking for new artists whose work they can sell because it will appeal to their existing customer base and attract new customers with similar tastes and interests. So, if you’ve done your homework and think that your work will complement the work already being sold in a specific gallery, you should contact them. A gallery director will be thrilled to meet an artist who is a good fit for the gallery and its customers.

By now, however, you’ve probably deduced that the secret to success is to present the right proposals to the right people. It’s not enough to simply contact every editor and producer with a general request to be featured. You need to see a connection between your story and their audience, and then help the editor or producer see that connection. Similarly, you should not contact every single gallery around, nor should you contact a gallery just because it’s successful and well-known. Be selective and contact only those galleries that are selling work similar to yours in a comparable price range. Then, in your cover letter, explain specifically why your work would be a good fit for that gallery.

In short, you’re not imposing yourself on people when you contact them with professional proposals because they always have the right to say no. Rather, if you’re giving them something they need to accomplish their business goals, you’re doing them a service. Everyone wins.