Facing Artist Rejection

Artist rejected

You’ve just finished your artistic masterpiece and decided it’s surely a potential candidate for winning a top award in some prestigious juried art show. You’ve filled the prospectus out, prepared your images for submission and sent in your money along with a self addressed stamped envelope so you can get your notification. Then you wait for the mail. Finally the day arrives. You open the letter with great anticipation, head swirling at the prospective benefits of this show and as your eyes focus upon the words of this form letter, you read: “Dear artist, thank you for your entry into our Not a Snowball’s Chance in July 10th Anniversary Art Show. We regret to inform you that your work was not selected for this exhibit”…….” REJECTED!!

What?? This is totally unacceptable I’m a MASTER ARTIST!! How can they say my work isn’t worthy to be in their little miserable show.  I’m going to send them my own rejection letter, telling them I have rejected their rejection letter!!! That will teach them to disrespect me! (Uh, don’t do that.)

Facing artist rejection is something every artist will experience at some point. So don’t waste a good stamp or envelope. Build a bridge and get over it. Better yet, don’t let it cause you to miss a beat or one ounce of sleep. Take it from someone who has not only been behind the scenes of a juried art show in not only writing a prospectus and more, but having served on jury panels, as well as being an awards judge, entering  juried shows myself having won awards and yes getting my fair share of those rejection notifications in the mail.

But get this. You’re not being rejected. They probably don’t even know you. So don’t take it personally. It’s not very professional.  Here’s from an inside perspective. As a show organizer, there’s a venue space. It has only so much wall and floor space. I’ll call it wall-estate. It can only display so much art. The organizer wants to have a balanced show. So not every oil painting, or watercolor or pastel or whatever other media is accepted for this show has, could all be shown, now matter how good the work is. Someone has to be cut. There’s also the problem of viewing art whether it’s being projected onto a screen or viewing on a computer. The juror can only make a decision based on the quality of the image they receive. Back in the days of slides I’d see ones that were poorly photographed. Also every painting is projected large. A 9×12 painting will be the same size as a 24×36 on screen. What may look good when viewed actual size doesn’t hold up so well when viewed in this manner. I recall one painting that although accepted didn’t have that much appeal, but when seen in person, it was so much better as you can see it in it’s context. So what an artist submits as regards the quality of the photo is essential but even with a good quality photo there are drawbacks. With digital media, the work may be now viewed on a smaller device, which presents it’s own problems when it comes time to viewing a whole bunch of entries.

Selection is also subjective. Even for the juror, given a different day he or she may select other work and depending on the show, it may receive hundreds or even thousands of entries. A daunting task. There have been situations where one work gets refused in one show only to win best of show in another.

So what if you still feel you missed out on a great opportunity that would have lead to bigger and better things? Let me tell you about an experience I had. Back in 1995 I entered this juried show put on by a legitimate arts association here in Texas. I don’t remember how I found out about the show, but I didn’t know much about it and it was in the days before Google or my having a computer, but it sounded good. Not some small local venue. The show was also to go on tour to several university art galleries. So I thought I’d give it a try. Here’s a picture of the painting I entered.

1995 oil painting titled "The Red Truck"

1995 oil painting titled “The Red Truck”

Guess what? I was accepted! It was juried by some senior curator of exhibitions from some university art gallery up in the state of Washington. There were over 1200 artists nationally who entered and only 48 works by 48 artists were selected and I was one of them. Sounds impressive doesn’t it. I couldn’t attend the opening as it was too far for me to travel at the time, but I got a show catalog. No it wasn’t in color, but still nicely printed. Then I opened the catalog to view the other art. Here’s the kicker. If I could have went and got my painting out of that show I would have. I was appalled at what my work was hanging next to. How about the image of a simple woman’s dress on a hanger that was badly soiled. REALLY? That thing needs to go into the washing machine now! Or how about the one with a mass of zombie looking people with a cow in the midst of them and its head was exploding off into the air. Hmm. Hang that thing in your dining room. I felt like I had just gone down to the police station to purchase an alarm permit, took a wrong turn and somehow found myself in a police line up with several unsavory looking characters. HOW DID I GET IN HERE!!! I threw away the catalog. There was no way I could show that to anyone. I found the show overall to be in poor taste despite the evaluations sent in by host institutions in feeling that this exhibit  was an excellent educational tool for involving and educating their communities about contemporary art.

In my opinion it only presented to the public the view that artists are a bunch of mentally disturbed people who have some severe issues to deal with, based on the imagery seen in the majority of that show.

To this day I do not know why my work was selected or what the state of mind of the juror was in when he picked my work.  I knew something was up when I was contacted by the exhibiting organization if my work could be re-framed as my nice custom frame was too traditional and this was a contemporary art show. Uh oh. The frame they put on it was awful. A simple pale colored wood frame. I wouldn’t have picked that up even if it was in a free box at a garage sale. I’ve seen better moulding at Home Depot. Oh, and when it came time to get my work back my nice original custom frame had been lost.

The painting didn’t sell at that show so I didn’t get any monetary benefit. Plus, I  didn’t receive a single inquire re or any other discernible benefit that helped my art career in any fashion. The only thing is it sounded good on paper. But that’s it. Frankly the expense an artist incurs with juried exhibits often outweigh any perceived benefits.

So if you’re going to put yourself out there and enter these juried shows, remember the expense upon the artist can be costly factoring in the shows fees, shipping etc. and the risk of loss. Plus, they’re subjective, and the opinions of one or a few are at work. If you didn’t get selected it might simply be you got cut because they had to make a decision because of wall-estate. When facing artist rejection do so with your head up. Now if your notification letter was to say something to the effect that they wouldn’t accept your art if you were the last artist on earth, then you can take if personally. Other than that it’s not a reflection on you or your art and even if you do get accepted into one of these shows you might wish you hadn’t.

4 thoughts on “Facing Artist Rejection

  1. Inese Poga

    I know what you mean. It is truly amazing what is called contemporary art today! Anything from a few spots to good abstracts and among that stuff there are absolutely no sense making images, too. One has to wonder: how could that be art? Well, it’s all in promotion. I suppose, abstract or simply disturbing images have to be assumed art because there are so many people out there who never had any talent and who never will have it, but they have contacts and financial means enough to advertise and promote their stuff frequently and persistently. It’s enough to be willing to smear paint on some surface and off it goes, the worse, the better. Such a fly of thought! In fact, there is no concept, no idea, no execution, no composition, not even good colors, nothing. I have stopped paying for juried shows because most often it is just like that: the organizer has received their buck, and they genuinely do not care whether somebody sells anything or not, whether somebody finds that art attractive or not.
    You have a great painting there, I suppose it would do very well in any representative art show. I’ve been in such a spot, too, when my oh so normal painting was among some who knows what images, and it didn’t feel good.

    1. William Post author

      Sometimes it seems the creativity in connection with these so called works of art comes in the creative writing it takes to explain the work. I remember the title of one called “Butterfly.” It looked more like a butterfly that hit the windshield of a car traveling at a high rate of speed.

  2. Randy Arnold

    Great article. I’ve gone to art shows for many years (definitly not a pro) and I never pick the ones the judges pick.

    1. William Post author

      Randy, you’re definitely not alone in that. On the other hand I was once asked to judge a small art show for a painting club out of town. When I arrived I was told they wanted everyone in the show to receive a ribbon. What? Why was I even needed? They thought it would be encouraging for their members if everyone got a ribbon. So I guess if someone entered 5 paintings they could say they won 5 ribbons or awards and if you entered only one you got only one. I thought the person who got five might be ostracized in the club especially if the work really wasn’t worthy. That was a long while back and my memory isn’t so clear on it, but I seem to recall I objected and said I couldn’t do that, but that I would be fair and do my best to give recognition to a variety of work.


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