No one likes being rejected, and it happens to everyone, including galleries. Even artists we consider grand masters like Van Gogh and Monet faced rejection: Van Gogh only sold one work in his lifetime and Monet faced decades of rejection until he found a patron.
While rejection is never easy, it can provide the opportunity to grow as an artist and open new doors.
It’s not personal
Rejections are never personal. Most galleries get several submissions a week and no gallery has the wall space to accept every artist. Your work may be too large for the gallery space, or a different style than their aesthetic or they may only represent select regions. The reason behind a gallery accepting or rejecting an artist are complex and varied. Researching the gallery before you approach it will help to reduce the chances of being rejected but sometimes it is out of your hands.
It takes courage
When first rejected, it is natural to feel upset or angry. Allow yourself to feel this way and move forward. Although it may be easier to focus on negative responses, remember it takes courage to approach an unknown gallery. Just reaching out can be an achievement by itself.
Learn from the experience
Take the time to read gallery rejections and what their responses are. Some galleries write standard rejections but others take the opportunity to give feedback. If they take the time to do so consider their opinion and how you could apply their advice while maintaining your own voice and style; it may be they just aren’t the right fit for your work.
If a gallery replies they are fully booked, don’t automatically assume they are trying to let you down gently. A gallery has limited space and will do their best to showcase each artist to their best ability. Consider re-approaching them in six months or when they indicate they are booked till. While this may not immediately result in representation it will make the gallery aware you are serious about your craft.
Don’t stop creating
Don’t allow a rejection to stop you creating and honing your craft. Keep in mind the Robert Wade quote: “Constant acceptance breeds complacency and mediocrity. Rejection breeds determination and ultimate success.” Use the opportunity to take a second look at your work and improve. Could you present a more cohesive portfolio? Do your photos do the work justice? Are there small tweaks that could be made to the work?
Use rejection to fuel your determination.
Don’t let it weigh you down
Chances are you started practicing your art for enjoyment. Don’t let a rejection take away your enjoyment or alter your work so much that it is no longer recognisably yours.
As difficult as rejection may be, it can be a positive experience if you use it to narrow your search for the right galleries and hone your craft from the feedback you receive. Use it to fuel your creativity and you will bounce back stronger and more determined to get your work into the right places and grow your art career.
Vicki Fox is owner of Quirky Fox Gallery in Hawera, and runs an artist mentoring programme, Creative Compass, with fellow artist and gallery owner Santie Cronje (Deciduus).
Designed with visual artists in mind, but applicable to a range of mediums, Creative Compass aims to guide emerging artists through their professional journey, answering questions and developing skills and confidence to reach the next level in the New Zealand art scene.