Friday, June 20, 2014

Coping with rejection

This is a long post about coping with rejection.  If you're not interested in that subject, my feelings won't be hurt if you skip this one...

Back in November of last year my gallery held a show of abstract art.  I was invited early last year to be a part of it, and, as the time drew near, I submitted several pieces -- some paintings, some photos -- for consideration by the curator.  He chose the ones he wanted to see in the show, I mounted them as suggested, and I delivered them a week early because I was going out of town.

My husband attended the opening for that show, and when I called later that evening to learn how it went, he informed me that none of the work I'd submitted made it in.  I was devastated -- I'd been working all year toward that show, and had been delighted to be invited to participate.  But I didn't say anything to the gallery, or ask what had gone wrong; I just assumed that because I'd submitted early they'd put the pieces away and forgotten about them.  (Lesson number 1: Don't assume, ask.)

And then, this spring (as mentioned in an earlier piece) I offered some very summery paintings to the gallery -- not for a show, just to hang in the shop.  The curator seemed to like them, but in the end he sent an email saying the director had rejected them, saying "why doesn't she bring us those nice boat pictures she was juried in for."  Of course, those boat pictures had been juried in some 12 years earlier, and the gallery only has boat shows every 3 years or so; it was inevitable that I would have found some other outlets for my creativity in the intervening years.

But the real problem was that, with the advent of digital cameras and cellphone cameras, photographs have become much harder to sell: as the cost of framing continued to rise it had become almost impossible to make money on the photos -- which didn't matter when my husband was employed; I could just see this as a hobby.  But when he was laid off I could no longer afford to spend more on framing than I could get back from the gallery -- which was part of what impelled me into painting in the first place.

So I wrote back to the curator to say, yes, I would bring him some boat pictures; what format would he like?  He didn't write back, and the next day I got a card in the mail from the gallery announcing their July Boat Show -- to which I hadn't even been invited.  So I decided to get creative: the gallery likes to feature little art books in their shows, and our local museum has a whole room devoted to art books, so I created a darling little art book with some of my best boat pictures and took it in. 

The curator loved it, we priced it, I signed an inventory form, and he asked if I could make another one, so I went home and created the one shown here, with ferries (always a winner in an island gallery).  And here's the meat of this story: I took the ferry book into the gallery yesterday, and the curator's face fell when he saw me.  "I hate to be the bearer of bad news," he said, but apparently the director had rejected my boat book "because it has words." (Don't art books often have words? I thought).  And again the message was "why can't she just bring in those nice photos she was juried in for?

So now I have to deal with those feelings of rejection -- and my question is: what do I do with that?  The temptation, of course, is to assign blame: the gallery director hates me, or maybe, why can't they get their act together: it's cruel for one person to accept artists and then for another to reject them.  Or I can turn it inward: they're right, my work is crap and doesn't deserve to be shown there. 

Or I can say, wow, that's three rejections in a row: the handwriting is on the wall and it's time for me to look elsewhere -- except I've made more money through this gallery this last year, selling the paintings they DID let me sell through them, than I've made in the last 4 years with my photos.  So it doesn't make any sense at all to sever my connection with them.

This is good meaty stuff -- once you get past the tears, the hurt, and the anger, right?  So here's what I think needs to happen -- which is the same advice I offer my kids when they bump up against hard stuff.

1.  Don't run away from the hurt feelings.  Sit with them, listen to them, figure out what echoes they strike in you, and be tender with that part of you that has been made to feel small and unwanted.

2.  Don't give in to the temptation to assign blame.  People generally operate out a space that seems perfectly rational to them, even if it doesn't seem so to you. 

3.  Evaluate the larger picture: is there something that happened here that indicates some larger problem that needs to be addressed, that affects more people than just yourself, and is this something you're willing to follow up on without any benefit to yourself?  Because unless you can approach it selflessly you need to let it go.

4.  Make a list: what are ten things you can do to take control of this situation?  And this includes things you may have learned AND new opportunities that may result if you expand your view of the options available to you.

So.  That's where I sit now.  I've got my work cut out for me, and a lot to chew on.

... and it's all good.  Really.  Not easy, but good.


John O said...

Diane, your post provided good material for reflection. Most creative people have to experience rejection. The problem for many of us, however, is that our art is in some way more than mere creative expression. It is a process of self affirmation, and when someone rejects our work, we experience a personal rejection. As I read your post, I couldn't help but feel a great disappointment in the behavior of the gallery director. In the story you tell, it is the director - not the artist - who is diminished. John

Malmaison said...

Did you ever sit down and talk to the director? It sounds like they were jerking you around. Also, it's rather narrow-minded of them to expect an artist to put out the same type of work year after year. Don't they encourage artists to grow? You also said that they let you show there. I think those were the words. That strikes me as being rather passive on your part. A gallery works with the artists in order to benefit both of you. They cannot survive without you. They should be working for YOU. You need to talk to them and if the director says they can sell photos of boats and you're willing to supply them, then shake on it. I'd find another venue at the same time. Good luck!

Diane Walker said...

You guys are so sweet! I think it was all good, because it propelled me into looking at other venues. Been accepted into two art festivals so far; hoping to find a gallery that will be interested...