How do you process rejection from art shows, galleries, museums and other art opportunities?
Does it deflate you? Do you paper your walls with saved rejection letters? Do you react by frantically changing up everything you are doing?
Rejection is something every artist experiences and it can be crippling. How can we manage it? Better yet, how can we use it to increase our marketing and sales experiences?
Lately, I’m realizing that I don’t create many new art business strategies around my wins. 2020 was a great year for me. I had so many successes. Yet I can’t think of one thing I will be doing differently in 2021 because of them. Can you? On the other hand, I applied to lots of shows and other opportunities that didn’t work out. Almost every one of those rejections resulted in a new strategy, or at least a lot of thought on what I could have done differently.
Not every industry gets the benefit of immediate performance feedback. In our artist profession, there’s a constant stream of criticism and rejection. If we use this wisely, it can be a constant data source.
Here’s the secret I believe successful artists have learned.
Rejections can be weaponized. They work for or against you.
Here are some facts to consider:
- Without rejection, we would not strive so hard to get better.
- In the end, a rejection is no more than an opinion as to whether our art is a good fit for a specific venue. There are infinite venues.
- Often, skill and acceptance are not linked. I have been rejected from museum exhibitions where blank white canvases were accepted.
- If we apply to less competitive art contests, we get more acceptances, awards and sales. However, the wins mean so much more when we get them from the tougher exhibitions.
Knowing these things, I argue that rejections are a gift. They encourage introspection. We process them and decide what they mean to us, if anything.
Here’s me being vulnerable for you all. I am determined to get a signature membership from a national society I am in...someday. I have other national and international society signature memberships, but this one has been a tough nut for me to crack. I have been rejected from their last two exhibitions. In studying the judges comments, they valued dappled sunlight, turning form with subtle pastel color changes, loose brushwork, large (bigger than mantle sized) paintings. Duh! NONE of these are things I do. The way their contest is run, the winners of previous national competitions are the judges for next year’s competition. So you see, this reinforces the characteristics that are prioritized in the winning paintings.
I have to decide how to react to these rejections. Do I do the best I can and just keep trying to sneak in the back door somehow, knowing full well it will involve even more rejections? Or, do I change up what I do and focus on works that have some of the qualities I think the judges value? Or do I give up? There are plenty of other contests after all.
I think any of these decisions is a good plan. And do you see what I did? I used the rejection as a data point. I can weigh my next steps and possible outcomes against the effort it will take, my long-term goals, and the experiences I want to have in my art journey.
It feels awful in the moment, but I am sorry/not sorry you had a bad gallery experience or didn’t make the cut for the exhibition. You are wiser for it and can make more informed decisions now. You experienced growth.
New Years Resolution.
Here’s a thought.
Rejections - Weaponize them. Use them to create sales and marketing opportunities.
How can you use rejections to create opportunities?
Here are some of my ideas. This is just a drop in the bucket of possibilities.
- Be vulnerable. Announce and share your failures...sometimes. We want to hear your wins too, of course. But talk about those ready to trash pieces when they DO get recognized. I have had several paintings win Best of Show that were rejected in many other competitions first.
- Don’t give up on your creations. Consider reworking them. As your skills improve, instead of burning your hard work and dwelling on all your mistakes, recreate them and acknowledge / share how much better you made them the second time around. This recycling would be a very engaging blog article.
- David Gaeda is always saying it - people love a story with a happy ending. We are creative. We can think of ways to make a rejection have a happy ending. This piece didn’t get into that exhibit, so I had it available to donate to my local charity. That sculpture would never have gotten into the national show if it had not been rejected by the local one. You get the idea. Pitch your story to local news, podcasts, and media outlets. This underdog wins in the end is the stuff people love to read about.
- Know that you get to be the author of your story. It’s only a defeat if you write it that way. If you work hard to improve, or decide to pivot and do a different kind of art, or walk away and free up time to do something else, you have a new story. If you are persistent and keep doing the same thing until you eventually get accepted, that’s a story too. Write and share about how you write the endings. Your blog and newsletter subscribers will want to hear.
- Why not have an art show with all of your rejected pieces? Everybody loves the island of the misfit toys in Rudolph’s story. You can make it your marketing hook.
- I’ve come to believe that if I get more acceptances than rejections, I’m not reaching high enough. Occasionally, when I’ve been getting lots of accolades, I will do something crazy like submit a proposal for a show to the curators at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Of course they ignore me, but I actually have learned a lot in the effort.
- If service brings you joy, pay this forward. Host an art exhibit that you advertise as a rejection free zone. It could just be a zoom call where you invite others to share their art. Encourage each other. You will be expanding your network. Maybe post everyone’s art in a FASO collection on your website, agree to co promote each other, and sign up for each others’ newsletters.
- You know how they always say the most successful entrepreneurs are the hungriest ones? Get scrappy. Of course I hope it doesn’t, but when you get knocked down, dig deep and treat this like your life depends on finding one more thing you can do to get in the game. It could result in a new series of works. It could result in approaching a whole new tribe of collectors. You might seek out a university or government center or other public space you never would have approached otherwise.
Please share your ideas in the comments below.
Honestly, writing this article made me think I really should pay more attention to my successes too.
I plan to look for ways to celebrate the wins more and think about what I can learn from them.
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door we do not see the one that has been opened for us.” - Helen Keller
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