I spoke with an experienced artist recently, and she mentioned that she has a lot of trouble finishing things. She has no shortage of ideas for projects and loves to begin them, but finishing even a fraction of them is tough.
After a few questions, it became clear that she was avoiding rejection. Every artist deals with rejection in some form. Sometimes it comes in the form of a direct “No” to an exhibition, a festival, a publisher, an anthology, an audition, or any competitive situation in the marketplace. Sometimes it takes the form of a critical review from any source. Often, it takes the form of crickets, that silent lack of acknowledgement of the work.
If you’re putting your art out there and it’s getting rejected or ignored, this means that you’re in the game. You believe in your work and you’re seeking an audience and recognition. This is something to salute! For the working artist, rejection comes with the territory.
From Steven Pressfield’s excellent book, The War of Art.
Check out imperfectionistblog.com for a review of this and other great books for artists and creative types.
And while rejection can bring up painful feelings of shame, a lot can be learned from it. It can give you useful information about your work, about the marketplace, and about how to redirect in order to find your audience of appreciators. It can also help you build a thick skin and give you practice presenting the case for your work.
And if you’re not sharing your work, there’s still enormous value in doing the work. The process of creating work that gives us enjoyment and pride is ultimately all there is in the end. I find ways to share some of my work, but some of it is just for me.
Here are 4 things to keep doing, regardless of what people are saying or not saying about your work:
1. Keep improving your technical skills.
Aim to create high quality work. Work with teachers and mentors you respect and trust.
2. Stay the course on the art you want to create.
Trying to create work that pleases everyone is the path to mediocrity. Remember that art is subjective. Stay true to your vision.
3. Keep talking with people and looking for opportunities.
Networking is a key part of success for artists, even though most artists would like to be left alone to hone their craft. While there are lots of ways to connect with people, nothing beats face-to-face when it comes to building real relationships and making a memorable impression, even on Zoom.
4. Share your work in unconventional ways,
as gifts to friends, as donations to nonprofit organizations, as trades with other artists. Heck, give your work away to strangers every now and then! One of my artist friends puts her smaller art pieces out to the curb on occasion, to be adopted by anonymous neighbors. She also participates in #freeartfridaypdx, an Instagram movement where artists hide their art, photograph the location, and upload the photo so that others can find it.
The hide and seek game of #freeartfridaypdx
Of course, it’s important not to give all of your work away, especially if it’s your living! Devaluing art consistently doesn’t help the profession, and our culture needs steady reminders that art has a monetary value.
On the other hand, giving your art freely can feel exciting when the alternative is that it sits in obscurity at home. This is a fine line to walk, and a personal one. Only you can decide what types of sharing will feel satisfying to you.
People do art, make music, write, act, dance and create for lots of reasons. Some have their eyes on the prize of success, and everyone likes to receive some form of recognition. But most of us would keep doing our art even if no one were paying attention. A friend of mine who is a prolific painter puts it this way: “Art is my language and my way of life. This is how I connect with the world.”
And out to the curb it went! I hope it’s happy in its new home.