Understanding Rejection

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 6.35.49 PM“Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work.  Note just what it is about your work that critics don’t like – then cultivate it.  That’s the only part of your work that’s individual and worth keeping.”  ~Jean Cocteau

There is no easy way to accept dealing with rejection. The only thing that may help alleviate some of the feelings associated with rejection is by understanding how and why it occurs in the first place. The art world is a power hierarchy, with galleries at the top of the pyramid and artists at the bottom. Critics, curators and collectors are in there somewhere, but clearly it is the rejection from the galleries that cut the deepest. While galleries enjoy this power, it is the artists that enable them to abuse it.

Before acquiring a new artist, many galleries need to observe the career development of an artist for many months, maybe even years. It is not dissimilar from watching a stock before making a purchase in the stock market. As an “Motley Fool vs Seeking Alpha” article highlights, an investor will usually want to see where the stock has been, lows and highs, research the management of a company to see if it is well run, and talk to professionals to get advice about it’s future potential. Looking at an artist and his/her career is no different. As a gallery, I must be convinced that you would be a “good investment.”…Not necessarily in monetary terms, but an investment in time and energy. Galleries look for serious artists who have matured stylistically, so there will be no drastic changes or surprises during their tenure. This explains the most common gallery “rejection.” “I like your work, but…” Most artists think in terms of black and white and hear this as “It’s hopeless, you stink.” When, in fact, it is the gallery saying they want to watch you to see if you are a stock worth investing in. Remember, studies have shown that it takes at least 3 exposures before your brain registers information. If you never contact that gallery again, you are not allowing them to have the experience of comparing and understanding your artistic development.

Galleries also have to consider how an artist fits into their stable of artists. With most galleries representing anywhere from 10-50 artists, their goals are to have a cohesive group of artists with enough variety to satisfy their particular collectors. Often times, even if a gallery LOVES your work, you may not satisfy a particular niche they are looking for. The same applies to jurors, looking to put together a juried show. Again, looking at the stock market analogy, you want a well-balanced, diversified portfolio. Thinking about rejection this way, helps to diffuse the personal nature of it.

So, how does the artist fit into the equation? First of all, you have to give yourself permission to want more for yourself without feeling guilty or embarrassed. Fear keeps us from going after our goals…sometimes even from acknowledging them. Artists get devastated by rejection because on some level, they want to believe it. Recognize that that is your personal baggage, and check it at the door! By staying focused on your work and the reasons you make art, you will slowly start to build the strength and resilience you need to present your work to galleries without allowing the outcome to affect you personally. This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen with time and experience. When you are truly focused, you will understand that a rejection should have no more effect on you and your work than a sale, a good review, or inclusion in an important exhibition.