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The Beautiful Art of Rejection

Updated: Nov 24, 2019

Before I opened my website, I applied for representation to an online art forum that represents various artists I admire. As an emerging artist, I knew it was a long shot, but as the adage states, it’s better to try and fail than to never try at all. Anyway, I opened the email filled with anticipation and high hopes. What I found was the following message delivering disappointment. It read,

“We appreciate your wanting to work with us. Your work’s quality speaks for itself; however, at this time, we feel that the direction of our site is taking differs somewhat from that of your work. Thanks again and all the best.”

There was nothing wrong with this email. The site curator was polite, kind, and reassuringly positive despite her ultimate rejection of my work. There is nothing to fault in her refusal, and yet still I felt my heart drop. This response was neither the reassurance nor acceptance I had craved regarding my recent decision to open my (he)art up to the world. There would be no glorious announcements over Facebook or Instagram regarding my legitimacy to wear the artist title. Not this time. I held on to that feeling for a bit. Yes, I wallowed in the rejection. And then I began to write.

Why write? Why decide to share my rejection with the world? Because I am committed to being authentic, and that comes with being real about the process, warts and all. And there is nothing that goes more hand and hand with the life of being an artist than rejection. The other reason I am writing is this. We are so familiar with the stories of the multiple rejections our much-admired heroes faced before they became the respected public figures they are now. These are our mentors. The ones we admire and place on pedestals. They have made it. Their stories are valid because they act as reminders that success is not instantaneous but rather is the compilation of hours of work. And while these stories are essential, I believe it is equally valuable to hear about the rejections faced from those of us still “in the trenches” so to speak. Those of us who remain unknown, whose shows and Instagram followers are few. To know there are others, like us, committed to the craft, who are painting daily, who invest time and money in their art, and who have still not come out with the wins they desired. I think this helps us all to feel a little less alone. To understand we are in this together.

Living in the shiny times of Instagram where our hardships are easily airbrushed and filtered away, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that everyone else’s lives consist of sunshine, lattes, and avocado on toast. However, like everything in life, the truth is less ebony or ivory and more of a muddied charcoal grey. Yes, we have joy in our lives, but we also have days when work leaves us exhausted or when our inability to protect our bullied child from school leaves us feeling concerned and helpless. We may feel trapped in a loveless marriage or alone because our best friend has passed on. Perhaps we feel disillusioned with the realisation that the world is not the just place we once imagined it to be.

Sometimes the art studio that looks so quaint and quirky in that Instagram shot is merely a well-lit photo of an easel shoved awkwardly behind the dining room table because there is no room in the house to paint (me). Sometimes the Mayfair filter does an excellent job of concealing unappealing eye bags that become more pronounced each year (also me). While I love my partner and new-found friends in Oz, I sometimes get crazy homesick for the tight-knit group of supportive women I knew in Canada. That’s the unfiltered truth. And while I wholeheartedly support the sharing of our successes and beautiful days in the sun, I also believe we don’t give our less shiny moments the credence they deserve for making us into the valuable beings we are. So I am learning to embrace my rejections and treat them as the learning process that they are because they are indeed a learning process.

So what do I do when rejection comes and knocks on my door? My ideal self is quite sensible. She sits, reflects, and gives herself time to wallow before focusing on the positive things that did go right in the week. She writes them down, maybe takes a photo. She often takes a walk or phones a supportive friend. She is practical and writes a list about how to move forward. She thinks about who she could contact next and if she could get better photos made. She researches into what galleries or online spaces most closely align with the themes of her work. That is what my ideal self does when dealing with rejection. My less perfect self? She mopes in a corner, feels dejected, and probably complains a bit too much to her partner and amazingly tolerant mother. She also ruminates far too much and generally sounds (and probably looks) like a bit of a mess. Thankfully on this occasion, I took the path of the former. Not that I would ever judge one for doing the latter. That would render me a hypocrite.

Still, my best advice would be not to ruminate and not to second guess. It’s too easy to spiral, imagining all of the unknown and horrible reasons why your work was not selected, and most of it is damaging and untrue. The world of rumination is a dark and nasty place. It’s filled with shadows, rodents, and unappealing smells. Take the rejection for what it is and move forward. You may choose to question it politely and respectively (ideally the next day, if you must, and if it is reasonable to do so). Then close your computer, laptop, or iPhone, take a deep breath, and move on. Remind yourself that there will be other opportunities.

Let us take solace in the fact that we are not alone. That there are others out there like us, who face the same kinds of rejections and heartbreak. Let us support each other. There will be more rejections to come, and I’d personally prefer to meet it linked in the arms of supportive friends. Onward and upward.

Keep on shining!

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