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. 


  1. Thank you for that thoughtful, insightful post. It's very helpful information that you have given. I will keep these things in mind as I enter shows and submit samples to galleries.

  2. Jennifer, it is a great blog, one I just stumbled upon and very pertinent topic. I've been a reject a 100 times over, I felt knocked down and I just got back up every time to submit to exhibitions, galleries and publishers again & again. I have read each of your paragraphs and if I only read this years ago when I was an anxious, eager beaver, I think it would've saved me and my dear husband some pain. I would go through this psycho-babble for a week after a rejection and it's just ridiculous what I put myself and my poor husband's ears through. Time is a good healer and so is being diligent with our work ethic and learning our art. If we have faith and believe in our quality of work and talent, that alone will carry us through rejections. I always tell myself, it is not the end of the world, I will get into something sooner or later. Then I do and it makes up for all the others, just that one time someone says congratulations, you've been accepted!

  3. How right you are.I have been rejected a few times and I am always down for a while.Sometimes for a day or so.I have even found it hard to get back to painting for a few days.What a waste of time.Please dont let this happen people.You are good and you should show it to the world. Al Johannessen

  4. One of the best ways to get perspective on "rejection depression" I have found is to judge a show myself. You then realize what goes on and how easy it sometimes is to pick one artwork over another. There has to be a first place, etc. and sometimes it is very hard for a jury to pick the winner. It could have easily been another artwork that was chosen but for many of the reasons mention in Jennifer's blog another was picked. The theme, the judges tastes, the location even of an exhibition can all affect the out come. Sometimes entering shows feels like gambling! You better your odds the more you know about the event, gallery or exhibition you are pursuing, Much like job hunting you want a good fit for your skills/style and personality. It is always best to look forward and on to the next project. By the way my husband has forbidden any more rejection melt downs so I have learned to get past it! Nobody's perfect we all just want to keep painting/creating. Don't let the negative outcomes get in the way!
    Lisa Mozzini-McDill

  5. Jennifer, I came to your blog from Robin Cheers' blog, and feel grateful to have found you. I'm very new to the Art world, and have no clear direction now that I've walked in. I have visions of one day entering something in a contest, or submitting my work for consideration at a gallery, and although I don't really know how to begin that process, it's great to know in advance how to handle the rejection that will inevitably come my way! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.