Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Dealing with Rejection

Art can be an extremely trying career choice. There is a lot of collaboration, but there is a lot of competition as well. And there are a lot of really talented people out there trying to make a name for themselves.

My high school art teacher once said that showing your art is akin to hanging yourself on the wall naked. Expressing yourself, your innermost wants and desires, and then displaying them can be very difficult. It can be even harder when people don't like or relate to what they see. However, due to the nature of the art world, artists have to learn to be able to cope with rejection because they simply will not get into every show or gallery that they try for.

It can be really hard being rejected from a show, but it can also be a learning experience. Oftentimes a lot of really good work gets submitted and it's up to the juror to pick and choose. That can come down to personal opinion, but it can also be greatly influenced by how cohesive the show as a whole will be and how appropriate the submitted work is to the theme or venue.

I submit work to a lot of different things of different levels. I know that I will constantly have to face rejection as a result, but I also feel that I cannot expand my horizons and reach out to new people if I limit myself to only doing the things that I feel comfortable with and where I know I'll be accepted. To me, that kind of limitation is a lot like just preaching to the choir, and I have little interest in that because I want my art to connect with as many different people as possible.

That said, if you want to avoid rejection, do your homework first.

Research the venue and see if you'll be a good fit. For example, if you're a landscape painter and you're submitting to galleries without looking into what they are interested in then you can expect to be rejected from a space that highlights portrait photography. And you likely wouldn't have bothered submitting materials to that gallery if you had just looked into it first. Also, by researching the gallery, you can get a feel for how that organization is run and what kind of presence they have to determine if they are suited to your level and needs.

Research the juror. It's always good to see what the juror does so that you can get a feel for how they perceive things, as that will influence how they approach the show subject and how they look at the submitted work in relation to the subject. Some jurors have obvious likes and dislikes while others do not, so you can never be assured of anything, but it helps to get an idea of how they think.

Think about appropriateness. I'm not an advocate of censorship and believe that anyone should be able to voice their concerns and grievances so long as it doesn't injure or inflict harm on others, but some things simply don't belong in some places. This relates back to researching the venue. Does your work fit the theme or are you trying to force the theme onto it? Audience is a big deal and can greatly affect what is shown in any particular venue. Is it a family space? Is it a community or religious center? Is it a public space? Is it government or corporation-run? Is it an outlet for provocative work? Is it a commercial gallery? Do they rely on sales, government funding or patronage from donors to stay open?

Present your work professionally. Outstanding work can be degraded if inappropriately displayed. Likewise, work that is not as good can appear great if professionally presented. You can frame your work so that it looks professional at a low cost, so long as you're willing to invest a little time. Just make sure that your frames are consistent, even if they're actually different from one another. I know a lot of artists who repurpose wood frames they find at thrift stores by repainting, carving and/or burnishing them, and, as a result, the frames are better suited to the artists' work and better match one another.

Always follow directions! Get your work in on time and present it according to their specs. A lot of places won't even look at work if it is not submitted as outlined in the time frame given. And if you're submitting pictures of your work instead of the actual work, make certain that the pictures do it justice, are in focus and you can tell what's going on.

Just don't take rejection personally. It's really easy to do, but I have worked check-in at a lot of different shows and am always amazed at the caliber of work submitted and am often surprised by what does and doesn't get in. Some of the best pieces submitted simply don't go with anything else in the show and stick out like a sore thumb. And remember, it's a matter of opinion and not everyone may share your aesthetics.

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