The Irish comedian, Dylan Moran, once did a brilliant skit about writing a letter rejecting a rejection letter. For anyone on the receiving end of a rejection letter his sentiment was spot on.
When you put your heart and soul into something, whether it is a new piece for an exhibition or an article for a journal and receive back one or two lines saying your work isn’t required it’s a bit soul-destroying. Especially, and this is what Moran was getting at, if you have no right of reply.
Dealing with rejection is one of those things that we all have to do in some way. For the visual artist this is not uncommon as galleries and exhibitions have their plan for how something will be curated, or what the over-all look and feel will be like. Given it’s a common issue what are some ways to over-come it?
The artwork archive have some clever ideas around rejection. First up don’t let rejection make you doubt yourself. It is a natural human behaviour to take rejection as an insult or as some indication that you are not good enough. Rejection in art and photography is not that - it just means that your work is not ‘right’ for that particular setting. It is not personal and it does not mean you are not good enough.
The second suggestion is a little bit more difficult. As an artist I know that ‘a little bit of me’ is invested in everything that I do. So when you are told “don’t let your work take over who you are as a person’ it feels a little bit tough. But, you don’t put all of you into your work, you only ever put a piece of yourself in. Why can I say this categorically? Because we are all growing and learning - what we put into a piece of work today helps us grow towards the next piece of artwork or photography that we make. So our all isn’t some finite thing - it’s not like we have eaten all the cookies and there are none left (in this analogy we still have the recipe and can make more).
Next up they suggest that we acknowledge the pain of rejection. Everything that we logically know tells us not to take it personally yet there is a little, niggling, doubt in our psyche that wants to. Rejection hurts. It’s ok to say that.
Another biggie - you are not the only artist / photographer / writer who has been rejected. The only people who never face rejection are those who never put anything out there. Don’t be like that.
It is tempting to try and create work that is safe from rejection but this is a bit daft. If you think about it, nothing has ever been created that is universally loved. So, why as an artist would you want to create something that every, single, person loved? It is really setting yourself up for the impossible. Instead of trying to please everyone it is much healthier to try to make sure that your work communicates the message that you want told. Universally accepted, safe-from-rejection work doesn’t exist.
Possibly the most important thing about rejection is don’t let it demotivate you - you have a story to tell and an important contribution to make; if it doesn’t resonate with everyone then so be it. The work just did not fit in that context; the artist themselves was not what was rejected.