Rejection Rituals

One of my Art Biz Bootcampers recently asked a question of our group that I think deserves a bigger stage.

Deep Thought

Do you have any rituals around rejections?

Maybe something involving screaming, hiding, crying, or throwing things?

Girl covering her eyes with her hands

Or perhaps you’ve been around long enough to know that the more often you’re rejected, the more likely you are to be accepted and you do a happy dance for each rejection?

Tell us!

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45 comments to Rejection Rituals

  • Perhaps there is no such thing as a “rejection” letter. Perhaps it’s an unfortunately ugly misnomer. It’s not the the art that is being rejected. What the so-called Rejection is saying is “Unfortunately your art doesn’t fit our agenda at this time.”

    Here’s a story. I was in charge of commissioning art for a large convention center. One fabulous artist used found, sheets, pillow cases, towels, etc with Goofy, Batman, and zillions of cartoon characters, to make wonderful large hanging quilts. The committee turned her work down in an instant. I was stunned. I asked what the deal was. They said “Orlando is our biggest competitor. If people see anything Disney they think of Orlando and not us. End of discussion.”

    I don’t think that constituted rejection of the art or the artist. In fact, it was probably affirmation.

    It’s not much different than falling in love with someone who’s already taken. You are not rejected when they say no. You never had any possibility of acceptance in the first place. You just thought you did.

    That said, an indulgent slice of chocolate cake always helps.

    • The only ritual I have (besides a slice of that cake) is spending quality time with quiet, thoughtful music working through my sketchbooks and idea boxes. Quietly doing and moving ahead helps me more than focusing on the decisions of others, ie. things that I can’t directly influence.

  • I just move on….but I also use the event to push me to do better. A bit like a missed tennis ball.

  • luise h.

    Being rejected for an Exhibit makes me examine how I could do better. But that is after the crush of disappointment. I try not to take it as a personal rejection, but that takes a little effort and the feeling lasts a few days.
    After applying to this one venue three times and being rejected each time I finally accepted that that is not the right place for my Art. Guess I was stubborn, but I don’t want to play it safe all the time either.So, I guess my rejection ritual is finding another venue and moving on.

  • Katherine

    When I get notice that I failed to jury into a show or a publication first I bury my face in my hands and resist the urge to throw myself on the floor, sobbing inconsoleably. I give myself 30 to 60 seconds to feel this way and then just acknowledge that it wasn’t meant to be. If I feel I made a HUGE effort my pity party may last for 2 minutes, but thee are other shows, other customers and other opportunities I just have to wade through it.

  • I am ok with “rejection” letters. I know there are many reasons why I may not have gotten into a show (too many other similar works or subject matter, genre does not sell well with expected clientele, pricing too high, pricing too low…..) it may have nothing to do with the quality of my work (or perhaps it does). I trust that God puts me where he wants me and I let it go at that. I apply to everything I think is pertinent and wait to see if anything grabs. (Plenty do grab) Then I go from there. No pressure….. Just keep moving on! Carpe’ Diem!

  • I find at least 3 reasons why the idea, proposal, or work that was rejected was actually a bad idea, a poor fit, or the wrong platform so that I can fully accept how the highly improbable came to be! I then reaffirm my knowledge that more opportunities await my undivided attention and it’s on to the next one!

  • I just keep working. Many good shows out there.

  • I read about an artist, whose name I can’t remember, who posted all her refection letters online. At the time, I thought, that’s confidence for you.

  • Like Paul, I truly believe that gallery agenda is a huge part of why an artist is rejected. I won’t say that rejection never bothers me because sometimes the gallery agenda bothers me, like the “NO NUDES” [sic] policy of a local regional art center where their definition of ‘nude’ turns out to be really, really broad…broad as in you would never think that a silhouette would be a problem.
    But I actually once got a very good laugh out of being rejected for a place in another local area art center’s co-op gallery where they very much cater to the tourist trade. I never know, with my stuff, if the local atmosphere will be supportive of it conceptually because most local artists are very landscape oriented and those that aren’t have a very graphic approach to their work, clean, neat, immediately apprehendable.
    One of the members of the jury called me to let me know that my work and I had been rejected because they like to let you know what the problem with your art is in case you want to ‘fix’ it.
    “To be honest,” he said, “We don’t even know what we’re looking at.”
    I’m afraid that I laughed out loud. I didn’t bother to tell him that I already had two one artist shows booked for that year so obviously somebody somewhere knows what they’re looking at.
    You fit where you fit and that’s it. If you’re going into the arts, any of them, you’d better be able to take rejection.

  • When I was in college I stopped to chat over the garden fence with a man I knew as a well-established, nationally-recognized artist. As I approached he was opening his mail… out of one envelope came slides and a letter, which he quickly perused and then started laughing.

    “What’s so funny?” I asked.
    “It’s a rejection letter!” he laughed.
    I was horrified. “How is that funny?”
    Still chortling he handed me the slides. “Look what they rejected!”
    It was the same work which I knew had recently taken top honors in a different exhibition.

    30 years later I’m still grateful for his example. Sometimes you get “the big envelope,” sometimes you don’t. Disappointing? Yes. But not the end of the world. Everyone’s comments so far reflect great ways to move on and keep working!

  • Joseph Murray

    Most of the comments that have been mentioned are all great ways of dealing with rejection . I have a couple of other suggestions as well .
    “There can be no failure to a person whe has not lost their courage, their character, their self respect, or their self confidence .” “Defeat –nothing but the first steps to something higher.” Lastly, “We muct embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” Kneji Miyazawa .
    Enjoy today !

  • I used to doubt myself and wonder why I was wasting my time. Now I holla out F**k you to the rejecting party and rationalize the situation. Art is subjective. The project wasn’t meant for me etc etc until I feel better but I no longer doubt my skills.

  • I mutter “your loss” and move on. It’s silly to get bent out of shape over someone saying your art doesn’t fit at this particular show. I do like Warren’s reaction ^ of hollering “FU” at the rejecting entity. Kinda cathartic.

  • Read once. Burn. Move on. :)

  • Whenever I submit for a show I consider it an application for rejection. Sometimes it’s true that the work doesn’t fit in with the majority of the work submitted, or does not exactly match the definition of the theme the curator or jury has in mind. Most often I am told the work doesn’t even make it to the jurors, amazing work can often get rejected because the Artist doesn’t know the right people.

  • These days, I get disappointed….and then I push right past it, leave the disappointment behind and more forward. But I do have to say, if I get rejected from the same place over and over I use the experience to look a bit deeper into why. It is just speculation, but is my work not appropriate for that venue? Or is it not ready to showw at that level. These are important questions to try and answer.

  • If I don’t acknowledge the hurt I feel with a rejection then it goes underground and unconsciously eats away without me realizing it. The more I admit to myself that rejection does hurt, the better. However, that said, I also bring in all the good, logical reasons why I should not take it ‘personally’ (not the right time, right venue, right jury etc). Then I move on as quickly as I can….but it all depends on how much I invested in the end goal. If the rejection is about not getting into a show, it’s a littler blip on my radar, if my project – that I poured my heart and soul into for weeks on end getting it ready is rejected, that takes longer to get over/through. Rejection, like Love comes in different sizes and packages.

  • When I first started ten years ago I took rejection personally and entered into the world of mental self abuse. Now I am grateful for rejection because I now know my work deserves to be loved and appreciated. I only choose places where it will be honored and I will be honored. Now I just look forward to the perfect fit and give little energy to the rejections.

  • Xenia Schafer

    Rejection ritual: getting together with friends and try to figure out why. This may include going to the show to see what the judges liked. Then I try again.

  • In my opinion, when a rejection letter is sent, it means one thing only. The work does not fit into the vision of the juror. It does not mean the work is bad. I have never known anyone to list shows, which they were not accepted for, so artists should be happy to have been given the opportunity to participate by showing support for those who were selected. My entry fee supports the arts community, and that always makes me happy.

  • I always use it as an affirmation that I am being led to where I need to be. I see it as, if I am not accepted into a show, my “tribe” will not be there to support me. When a door shuts a window opens!

  • I once spoke to a consultant who advises artists on how to overcome objections to price, etc. He said that sometimes when you can’t overcome the objections, and the customer keeps objecting, you can say “My (insert paintings, sculpture, or whatever) is not for everyone”. That is what I think of (to myself) when I get a rejection to my work from anyone and just go on to the next effort.

    • This is so true!

      I had been thinking this exact thing one day while driving my children somewhere. I heard a little five year old voice say, “Mommy, who is not going to love us?” Huh? She said, “You just said, ‘not everyone is going to love you.’ WHO are you talking to?”

      I have to stop talking to myself or my children will need so much therapy.

  • Although I feel disappointed and bummed out for a bit, it makes me appreciate when my art is accepted and appreciated that much more.

  • Firstly never take it personally. As mentioned by numerous others there is more to acceptance than the jurors just liking a piece. Having been on the selection panel for exhibitions it really is often the case that work is either not appropriate for the venue or is too similar to already selected pieces.
    I always ask myself whether I could have improved on the piece I submitted. If the answer is yes then shame on me for submitting a second rate piece in the first place!
    If the answer is no then I have nothing to question – I just start on my next piece. As wonderful as being accepted is it has to be the work itself that is the reward. After winning a prestigious award that I had been coveting for years I was shocked to feel a huge anti-climax. It dawned on me that actually the critic whose opinion matters the most is me. Remember ‘to thine own self be true’ and the rest will be put into perspective.

  • i can’t say that i do a happy dance when my art is rejected…i typically go into self-pity for a day or two, but then i come out of it more determined than ever to succeed! i’ve also learned to really be more real/conscious about what shows i am submitting my work to…sometimes i found (in hindsight) that i set myself up for rejection. for example i’ve entered a prestigious show a few times, not getting that the jurors they select every year to judge choose art that is more contemporary and abstract than my work…but i finally got it and now will not waste my time, money or mental energy entering it!

  • Alyson, your posts seem written just for me…I just got a rejection yesterday night that I’m not too happy about. But to me, it’s all about context. Like was I expecting the rejection (in this case, yes) and what else is going on in my life. Am I satisfied in other areas–financially, romantically, creatively? It’s much harder when the rejection seems to be coming from everywhere than when it’s isolated to one piece of paper. For me now, right after the rejection came some happy news where I was selected for something fun–so that took my mind off of it. So it’s a matter of focus. I like to think of that famous story of when John Travolta was told he’d never make it and his thought after was “what is wrong with you people?” If one persists, there’s always the chance for the last laugh. Until then, it’s not always easy, but “rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.” Is that CSNY line dating me too much?

  • I file all the letters in my rejection folder. I have one for mailed letters and one on my computer. Sometimes I show my husband the more obnoxious form letters and we laugh. It’s just seems that they could spend a little time and make a nice letter with a mail merge instead of Dear Artist or nothing at all. We as artists spend the time to make a nice presentation. Sometimes if it was something I really wanted I feel sad and then start looking for the next opportunity. I just keep going and applying for the opportunities that make sense for me.
    *One of my friends wanted to go to a certain artist-in-residence program and she applied 4 times before being accepted. She didn’t let the rejection letters keep her from trying. Then they invited her back a year after she participated in the program.

  • Rejection can hurt, even crush you because I have seen it with others. I think rejection is part of the skin thickening process that builds strong character. For me, I just think about it briefly, imagine the task of breaking the bad news and realize that it is OK. The rejection does not mean that you are bad. The worst response I give is, “Aw, bummer. Oh well.” Move on.

    • Terri Garcia

      I agree, “Aw, bummer” and move on. There’s no sense in wallowing because it won’t change anything anyway. There are plenty of opportunities out there and the right one will come along.

  • I usually feel very disappointed if it was something I really wanted. And if I did really want it I put it on my calendar for the next year. I type it in a few weeks to a month ahead of when the deadline might be so that I can prepare a better submission the next year.

    Then I go talk to one of my children. I tell them I am disappointed and we talk about it a little. So they know it won’t kill them when they don’t get what they want and I also remember that the world is very big and this is one moment.

    I don’t get completely destroyed. That is what art school was for. ;)

  • It happened once. I did not accept it nor do I rationalize it or internalize it although I did flip out. It is kinda like when you walk by a bum in the street and he/she says something unintelligible. What is anyone to think of that?

    • Anwar

      I did research the jury and found that they were 3 famous clowns. One makes these little forts out of home depot lumber which he returns after the show in unused condition. To add a little class he has insense, grafitti made by local highschool talent and electonica music piped in…uh. The other is known for her duct tape paintings…..err. Finally the other is a photographer known for taking pictures of people as they walk away confused…. These a real examples of “high” profile jurors for a major show in Chicago…. I turn my back on them and realize that the jury is so completely rigged. One has to make all thier own breaks period.

  • Rejection doesn’t sting the way it used to. If someone thinks my work isn’t right for them, it’s probably not right for them. I try to respect that.

    I will never know the factors behind someone else’s decision making process. It is totally out of my control. What’s in my control is how I spend my time after receiving disappointing news. The faster I can say, “NEXT!” the better off I am. And, if I am already onto the “next” before receiving word, I am well immunized.

    Great comments.

  • To be honest most juried shows take a really long time to get back to you nowadays. For me by the time I get a rejection letter a couple months later I’m usually thrilled that I can take the painting off the my “reserved” list and get it out somewhere. :) More stock, yay!

  • First I try to figure out why I was rejected. Did my work not fit into what they were looking for? Then, if I am still interested in the organization I know that I will try again next year.

  • Randine Dodson

    A few years ago i gave myself a birthday present by engaging an art consultant/rep to my place to see my work. She was not impressed. She told me my work wasn’t the kind she would have a place for. As she left my apartment, i managed to close the door, fall to the floor and crawl to the bathroom where i was sick. This event told me a couple of things. A) I was a lot more connected and invested in my work than i knew and B) just because SHE didn’t respond to my work didn’t mean it wasn’t good – she just wasn’t the right fit for me. I think of that every time i get rejected now.

  • Several years ago a very wise composer told me to think less about my work when viewers looked at it and think more about the place/experience from which the viewer comes from. They approach art from THEIR experience, not the originator.

    This idea helps to flip the coin about the subject of rejection.

  • It can help to find out why my work is rejected if it can lead me to improvements in my work or how I present it. Last fall I learned I was rejected for a national museum tour because my work appeared too delicate for a lot of handling. So next time I will include information about the sturdiness of the work.

  • After reading all these posts, I realized something quite interesting; I had experienced many of the same responses that others had. Over many years of painting, I now look at the bigger picture; jurors are not invested in me or my work. Putting together a show is quite often a part of the ‘business side’ of creating a show. A show is usually meant to sell paintings unless it it is just ‘to show’ paintings. I haven’t found this to be the norm, however. The show must tie together through styles, themes, etc., and if one’s work doesn’t fall within those parameters, it doesn’t fit! That is generally the bottom line – fit. I have never been told that I don’t paint well…that hasn’t been the problem; if it wasn’t selected for THAT particular show, it didn’t fit the vision the gallery or jurors had. In other words, it is simply not personal. In the past and in my beginning years as an artist I admit that I did take rejections personally at first. I still take part in submitting my work from time to time, but I now see it as part of the business side of setting up shows. And I would add, there seems to be plenty of opportunities to show through a lot of different ways and in places. To me, it makes more sense to keep moving forward. I am going to paint anyhow!

  • Hmmm, I haven’t read anyone’s ritual yet. Some rejections are more painful than others. I just had a gallery I’d been in about eight months break up with me due to only selling one large painting (which I thought was okay). My ritual involves making myself feel better, and this ALWAYS works: 1. put on red lipstick (guys, skip this step, please); 2. drive somewhere that takes about 45 minutes and sing loudly along with the music the whole way there and again the whole way home. I felt great again, except for the sore throat!