The Art of Rejection

A few weeks ago, I submitted a seven-piece portfolio to a juried show. It was my first attempt at jury submission. It failed.

After I finished blubbering and sketched myself a sad squid, I started looking objectively at the situation. Had I simply been rejected, I may not have asked why. But they mistakenly sent me two e-mails; the first one said “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted!” and the second, which came the next day, said “Sorry, but you have not been selected.” Shortly afterward, the art director sent another e-mail explaining the mix-up and told me the “reject” e-mail was the correct one.

I was fairly mad, considering the “accept” e-mail came first. I slept on it, and finally decided to write the director about the situation. I politely expressed indignation about the fiasco, and I also asked if the jury had any comments. I really wanted some insight about why I was rejected.

They were nice enough, and came back with this: “Your work is inventive but lacks focus.” That one line, that short sentence, says so much. I had selected a variety of styles to show the jury my versatility.

Turns out, the majority of juries, galleries, and buyers want consistency rather than variety. Think about it from a buyer’s standpoint: you want to be able to sum up the artist’s style in a few seconds by looking at a wall of their art.

I am still learning and exploring with styles, mediums, supports… everything! Because I’m still new to painting, I don’t know what I want to focus on. I have so many interests that it’s painful to pick just one area. But I have to if I want to become a serious artist. It just feels too soon! I don’t want to limit myself when I hardly know anything and have oodles still to learn. Does anyone else feel that conflict?

I learned a bunch from my rejection. The lesson this week: use your failures to evaluate yourself and improve your art. It’s tough, but it’s worth it. I was back to my normal self in no time, and wiser to boot.

10 thoughts on “The Art of Rejection”

  1. I’m so sorry that you didn’t get in Meg! I think your work is great. But I understand exactly what you mean about focus. I struggle with that. I’m still in that experimenting stage too. But how are we supposed to find our style if we don’t experiment?
    I applaude you for being brave enough to enter and for your great attitude. I would be upset about getting 2 different emails too. That just wasn’t fair of them!!

  2. Ouch! That hurt! I am sorry for your rejection, as your talent is obvious for anyone to see. The jury may have loved your work, but was looking for the consistency meme. Doesn’t mean you’re not doing great art.
    I started out with this art fair than ran every weekend for 4 to 5 days, that was virtually non-juried. I tried to put out a variety to see what sold better. They sold equally!
    I think my focus came when I sold a big work of a certain style. The bottom line wasn’t commercial, though. I had the soul-level connection with that style.
    One thing I did this year was to cull out the marginally good stuff that I had framed. Just the best at the shows. The results have been huge!

  3. Hey Megus Maximus,
    This is something I also have come up against. I always thought that A.D.’s would think it was great to have a swiss army arteest with many styles to choose from, more bang for the buck don’t ya know. WRONG was the answer I received. They would prefer a consistent style that they wouldn’t have to guess on every time.
    Sigh. So now I am consolidating my stuff into themed portfolios and offering the style that they want with the option to peruse the other portfolios as they will. In the final analysis it makes sense but it doesn’t get rid of the feeling of having to limit my creativity.
    Buck up there mon petit frommage.

  4. First of all, you didn’t fail. You made a portfolio, and submitted it in a professional manner. As far as art critics are concerned, I’m amused by people who expect artists to “think outside the box” while attempting to stuff them into one all at the same time.

    Creativity begets creativity. Next time, use a different selection process for your paintings, but don’t stop experimenting and creating because you don’t fit into somebody else’s box. Van Gogh’s Potato Eaters weren’t very popular when they were first painted, either.

    I’m with Tony. Themed portfolios are an excellent idea!

  5. Good on ya for trying Meg, most people don’t even get that far!
    It’s unfortunate that you didn’t get in but you made the effort and despite that you still learned a valuable lesson from it. Besides which, just remember that it’s the opinion of one group of people, nothing more.

    Submit themed portfolios to shows and in your “free time” (I know, there’s never enough) experiment to your heart’s content. You’ll probably find that both the processes, fitting everything into one category and still having an array of other works, will help direct you in finding your “niche”.

    Keep on truckin’ through the juried show process, it’s an ego bruising one, but worth it!

  6. Wow, everyone, thanks for all your kind words!!

    Kasie – Yep, it’s hard, but there have been some great suggestions here. Have focus AND experiment, and be selective about your portfolios. Now.. what to focus on??

    Casey, thanks! I need to find a focus that will feed my soul *and* my body (i.e. sell). That’s going to be tough for me, I think. Out of curiosity, what do you do with the art you call “marginally good,” if not sell it at shows? E-bay?

    Senor Steele, good advice. I can see it from an AD’s point of view. They want one swift look to sum you up. I will try your excellent themed portfolio idea. And I have never been called a “petit frommage” before… *giggle*

    Lisa – you’re absolutely right, I learned a lot, so it wasn’t a failure. Great experience gained. I’ll always have to paint some things that don’t fit into a portfolio, but I will love them and hug them and not show them to any art directors.

    Rita, it was a bit of a bruising, not so much for my ego, but for my self-confidence. However, I learned from it and am stronger already. You guys really have cheered me up.

    THANKS everyone!

  7. I destroy it. That sounds harsh, but it is a common practice of artists.

  8. Casey – I don’t think I’m mature enough to throw out old art! I have a lot to learn. I’m at least keeping it around for now so that I might learn from it and re-do it with improvements.

    Thanks for the heads-up on Maggie!

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