Handling rejection is difficult in any area of life. When it comes to art, it’s especially tricky. Art is a particularly unique and intimate expression of the individual. Separating the intimate act of creation from the reactions people may have to it is a difficult—though very necessary—process.
If a rejection is particularly harsh or comes to an artist at an especially vulnerable time, it can have the tragic effect of causing an artist to have serious doubts about their own talents and worth. Worse still, it can cause some artists to stop creating altogether.
So how does an artist go about boldly creating and expressing themselves when rejection is sure to be a part of their lives?
You Are Not Your Art
Ultimately, the ability to handle the rejection of your art without feeling as though it’s a rejection of you as a person comes from a mental separation of yourself and the work you create. This is a difficult thing to do.
There must be a mental separation that causes you to understand that through your art is an intimate expression of yourself, it is not your actual self. You are an entity that exists outside of your art, and as such, can remain unaffected by the judgments others have about your creations.
Creating this separation can take some time and effort, but there are a few things that can help you get there:
Understand the Relationship to Your Audience
Your audience is not the final authority on the quality of your art. They can express whether your work inspired, amused, moved, or entertained them, but their subjective opinions have no ultimate meaning when it comes to the value of your work. Don’t allow their words to take up real estate in your mind and plant seeds of doubt.
Practice the Power of “Yet”
Practice having a growth mindset. A growth mindset allows space to exist between success and failure in a way that encourages further improvement. An example of a growth mindset is practicing utilizing the power of “yet.”
For instance, instead of feeling devastated by a setback, you can reframe obstacles by saying, “I have not found the right audience for my art yet.” “I have not reached my career goals as an artist yet.” “My work is not in a gallery yet.”
Having this point of view allows you to be encouraged and try again because you understand that when one (or many) doors close, it is not the end; the correct door just hasn’t opened yet.
Remind Yourself Why You Created the Work
As an artist, it is important to acknowledge to yourself that there are some people who simply will not understand or even like your work. What they perceive as “good” or “bad” should not cast a shadow on what you know to be the truth in your art.
If you find yourself starting to cave to the opinions of others and doubting the quality of your work, remind yourself why you created the work in the first place.
Do you feel you accurately and authentically captured the elements of truth you were aiming to convey in the work? If so, then your piece is a success, no matter how others may feel about it.
Know Your Market
If you find that you are consistently being rejected from professional opportunities, it may be time to change your approach. Here are a few things you may need to re-evaluate:
1. Research the Market – The words “marketable” and “art” can sometimes feel like absolute contradictions to the artist, but it’s extremely important to know your market if you are trying to sell. It’s just as important to understand that creating art for the market is not selling out. You can create and express as authentically and truthfully as you are able while still being intentional about the marketability of your work.
Study the market and challenge yourself to see how uniquely you can express your vision while also being mindful of the market you are targeting.
2. Refine Your Pitch – Artists can really struggle with talking about their own art. However, learning to pitch yourself is an essential skill for your career. If you find you’re not getting any responses, or the responses you are receiving are mostly negative, take a look at your pitch and see if that’s where the issue lies.
Are you too aggressive? Are you too informal? Are you scattered and unclear? Are you accurately representing your work? Are you making the pitch all about yourself and not discussing how your work can further the goals of the gallery/collector/curator?
A well-crafted pitch can work wonders for you, so take the time to get it right.
3. Adjust Your Approach – It is good to persevere when something you try isn’t working. However, persevering does not mean trying the exact same thing over and over again. Instead, persistence should include constantly testing new ideas and creatively approaching obstacles until you find the path that works for you.
Have you been trying to get your work into galleries without success? Pivot. How about putting on your own show? Getting several of your artist friends together, renting a small space, and see what comes of it? The press and success of independently taking initiative could very well lead to interest from galleries, all because you took a fresh, creative, and self-reliant approach instead of endlessly sending cold emails to galleries that are already inundated with artist emails.
If you’re struggling to make sales online, maybe the vertical you’re currently using isn’t right for you. Maybe Instagram doesn’t serve your art as well as setting up at the local farmer’s market will.
Keep pushing yourself to find new avenues to pursue and pushing your art further into the world. You are your work’s greatest advocate, so give it all you’ve got.
Trust in the Universe
Few things can be more frustrating than hearing well-meaning friends try to comfort us by saying, “everything happens for a reason.” But the truth is, if you begin to trust that certain opportunities fell through for you because even better ones are in store, it can be tremendously helpful in learning to handle setbacks with grace.
When you see every “no” as simply moving you one step closer to a “yes,” you stop seeing closed doors and start seeing signposts leading you further down the correct path.
Disappointment is natural, even some anger and sadness is to be expected. But the sooner you can learn to put these feelings down and shift your perspective into one of trust, hope, and gratitude, you’ll be more than ready to try again when the next—and better—opportunity comes your way.
Alia Sinclair is a writer, musician, and Editor-in-Chief of Patchwork Mosaic, an online magazine for creatives. An avid art enthusiast, Alia lives on the West Coast with her ever-increasing library of books.