Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
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02/12/2004: "Does rejection ever get any easier?"

My friend who is getting published in the Women in Performance journal just heard back from the publishers that they aren't interested in my painting. They said "We liked your friend's painting, but unfortunately we don't see it as a match for the W&P aesthetic"


(Just kidding!)

You would think that being rejected would get easier over time but it never feels good. I understand how these decisions get made and it has a lot to do with how things fit together as a whole. Back in my college days I had a painting that was rejected from a student exhibit that went on to win an award in a much bigger show later that same year.

As an artist, you can't take things like this personally or you'll make yourself crazy. Let's take my last exhibit, for example. I only sold two paintings and was feeling really down about it. I hid in the bathroom most of the evening (I DESPISE going to my own openings). Later that night I went home and took down my home studio, which is in my upstairs living room. I have a large canvas drop cloth, easel, all my paints and canvas supplies, plastic sheeting on the walls so I can hang wet paintings without ruining my paint job...I took it all down and put everything away and didn't paint for months afterward.

Or, take the example of my BFA solo. I was supposed to be in a two person show with another artist and we had a fairly large gallery to fill. She was doing digitally modified photography and I was doing a variety of prints on the subject of how human evolution will be affected by new technological advancements including virtual reality. It was a lot about how communication and human interaction has changed from email and chat etc. (this was back in 1993 I think).

Anyway, the other woman was supposed to be ordering the invitations and I kept bugging her about when they were going to be finished. A week before the show she confesses that she hasn't ordered any invitations, and worse still, that she was not going to be able to be in the show because she was having problems printing her work out from the computer (instead she showed her work in the computer lab).

I was totally screwed. I had to fill this giant space with only my work. Since it was printmaking, I decided to divide the space in half and show the finished work in the back and show the printing matrixes in the front. So, I did monoprints, intaglio, litho, and colagraphs and showed the plates in the front along with how the process worked. People thought it was really interesting and I got tons of extremely positive feedback in my guestbook and had a huge turn out and sold all of the work (although I didn't have pricing or a means for accepting money at the opening so in the end I didn't actually collect money from everyone who "bought" pieces).

Well, to make a long story short, I was really riding high after that show. I pretty much thought I was a genius and had big expectations that the review from my thesis committee (consisting of 8 faculty members from various heads of the art department) would reflect this. Boy was I in for a surprise. The comments were ruthless and contradictory. One said the colors were too bright, another that the colors were too muddy, they threw around terms like "cliché" and said that the pieces weren't hung straight and that I didn't have the technical skills expected from someone majoring in printmaking.

The worst part is that the comments were all made anonymously. So I didn't know if the comment about my technical abilities were coming from the head of printmaking or the head of sculpture. Not to mention that my mentor, Mark Zirple, had been fired and replaced by a total loser who had been running a T-Shirt shop for 20 years and that I practically had to teach his classes for him because he was clueless.

Can you tell that I'm still bitter about this?

I was so devastated. I cried for nearly a week straight. I basically quit printmaking then and there. I felt like such a loser. I let their comments completely define me as an artist. I was young and so easily influenced. Looking back, none of those professors were very accomplished as artists. They weren't winning awards or having solo exhibits or even producing much work of their own. And yet to me, their opinion met everything. And I took their harsh words and barely passing score (C-) as a crushing blow to not only my ego but my confidence in myself as an artist, that up until that point had been rock solid.

I mean, I suffered through group critiques like everyone else but my work was generally respected and I'd always made straight A's.

After that, I didn't do any art at all for over a year, and then I went into ceramics and started making functional pottery. It seemed about as far away from printmaking as I could get, but after awhile, I started carving grooves into the clay and obsessing about surface treatment. I started taking classes in hand building and doing more sculptural works. I couldn't get away from the ideas behind art. I wanted to do pottery because it seemed safe from the scrutiny of pseudo intellectuals but I couldn't stay away for ever.

And now I'm back to my first love, oil painting. And I'm having one of the most intense creative spurts that I can remember in years...and yet, the slightest negative comment "we don't see it as a match for the W&P aesthetic" has me feeling all deflated. Why is this? Why is it that you can get a thousand compliments and the one negative comment can drowned them all out?

Well, maybe it's just me; I've always focused on the negative too much.

I ask all you artists and creative types out there...does rejection ever get any easier?

Replies: 4 Comments

on Friday, February 13th, Chris said

No-one likes being rejected. But for the aspiring artist there are some point to keep in mind:

1. Handle any feedback you get professionally. If they don't like it, fine, move on. Someone will.

2. There's a gazillion reasons for some person to reject your work. Pondering about these drains creative energy. There's also a gazillion a*holes out there.

3. Focus on your work, not the impact it has on other people.

on Friday, February 13th, Jackie said

It does get easier. The right people may not be seeing your work at the right moment. Keep showing it, and the right people will come along. Then they'll keep coming back for more! I speak from experience.

on Friday, February 13th, Elise said

Thank you Jackie and Chris for the excellent advice. I especially needed to remember to:

"Focus on your work, not the impact it has on other people".

That is the hardest thing for me to do, I always care too much. But I will take that to heart and I know it will make me a stronger artist.

on Thursday, March 25th, randy burns said

have been looking at sites on rejected artists. yours gave me a boost. i have been rejected from grad. school for painting 5 times and have been devasted, yet a new direction is coming thru with my paint-more raw. please give me any further advice from anyone about how to completely overcome this rejection eating away. i have my bfa and want to say that is enough.

randy burns :(