As an artist, I’m no stranger to rejection. I just received one from a gallery I'd hoped to show in this week. Every email, application, or submission is a potential ‘no’, or an unanswered silence. Not so different from our everyday lives. When we reach for something new, we court rejection.
When I started out as an artist I knew I would encounter lots of rejections. Many galleries prefer to work with artists who have experience showing their work and a healthy resume. But how to get accepted when your journey has just begun?
Rejection is part of the journey. Better muscle down and get used to it, I told myself.
So I did, and began a project I called 50 Rejections. I made it one of my goals to get rejected 50 times. This doesn’t mean I applied to things I knew were a bad fit, never-gonna-happen type of deals, but I did start putting myself out there. Each ‘no’ was an opportunity that I had taken a swing at. I began applying and seeking opportunities to show my work and build a career as an artist. Each ‘no’ was not a fail, but a step towards my dream life.
Since starting in 2016 I have received 41 rejections. I’ve faced the dreaded ‘zero reply’ many times, eventually marking ‘no’ next to the journal entry as the months pass with no reply. I’ve submitted to about 90 opportunities since 2016.
In 2015, I participated in only one gallery show and a handful of art fairs. I began this project and in 2019, I had 6 shows, two of which were solo, and have been in over 20 art fairs. I began to receive ‘yeses’ along with the ‘no's’.
So keep going. Keep trying. Keep working towards your best life. Maybe you’ll build it, step by step. Maybe your rejections will lead to something better than you’d imagined or hoped for. If nothing else, you’ll build resilience. And faith in yourself that comes from knowing that you tried with your best effort.
All that may sound a little too chipper or optimistic. I know rejection is disappointing. It is often painful. Hearing a ‘no’ to a project you put your best into and sent off with a hopeful heart can be crushing. There are times, I’ve felt that I’d never get anywhere, never make it work. It’s okay to let yourself feel this disappointment. But the more you go through that cycle, the easier it is to gently put the disappointment aside and try for the next opportunity.
A rejection of your work is not a rejection of you.
By my putting the emphasis on the process of applying instead of the result of acceptance, I built self resilience.
I succeeded every time I tried, not every time someone else accepted my try.
Because I opened myself up to rejection, I have shown my art in 17 gallery shows since 2016. I’ve gained a breath of experience working with different galleries, and organizations. I’ve improved my ability to work and talk about my art. And I feel like I’m finally figuring out my own art journey.
I hope you find yours too. I hope you keep trying. And remember; don’t take every rejection to heart.