When I started this blog I imagined it would be primarily about my own experiences and influences as an artist. Instead, it veered rather quickly into related discussions around my interactions with my students and experiences teaching. Part of the reason has to do with this blog post. I’ve been wanting to write this particular post, but struggling with it since the moment I thought of the blog. The topic is a complicated one that I am having trouble encapsulating in a few short words, sentences, or even paragraphs, so I have decided to try and break it down into bite size chunks. I want to tackle the role of rejection and art making first.
Like failure, rejection is something that an artist must get used to in their career. It can be a powerful motivator or deterrent. My work gets rejected a lot and I used to let it dissuade me from my creative practice. Aside from my art being an outward expression of myself, it was also the primary way I found acceptance from others. When my work was rejected from a show or gallery it felt very personal to me, even though to the people reviewing the work it was certainly not. When I did get back to making work I used the rejection as a motivator to improve. But, this act was inherently dangerous in a way and I sometimes found myself motivated in a less than productive way. What do I mind by this? I mean that I sometimes found myself trying to make work for other people, work that did not necessarily suit my interests or work that I particularly liked. In short, I was fighting against myself in order to try and please the idea I had formed of the viewer. It always ended in weak work.
I think it is worth clarifying a bit here. I take commissions and freelance projects where I am actively working towards providing a product for a client that they will like, and pay me for, but that is really different than allowing them to drive the process or vision. When doing work like that the process of creation should be a dialogue and conversation between myself and the client. It should not be an argument where we haggle for control. Presumably they have chosen to work with me because they like my previous work (i.e. style and way of seeing/thinking) and are looking for something that applies that aesthetic to their product or idea. We are equal partners and active collaborators. When this is not the case and their expectations and mine do not match, I always back away from the project. If I am doing my job (communicating, listening and creating) during the process there is little chance of rejection once the project is underway.
With my personal work, what you overwhelmingly see on this website, I still face consistent rejection from shows, galleries, competitions, etc. The consistency of those rejections kept me and sometimes still keep me from applying to shows, competitions and galleries. But, this is now primarily a function cost analysis (is it worth my time/effort to…) than any feeling of inadequacy. I have been doing this long enough to realize that not everyone is going to like my work, that trends and tastes are varied and constantly changing and that none of it has to do with me as a person. Rejection no longer motivates or dissuades me. I just accept it and move on. In short, I make this art for me and what others think of it has no bearing on whether or not I will continue making it, nor on what I will make. Don’t get me wrong, it is always nice when someone likes my work, but it is nice because I have in some small way made a connection with someone, not because I feel validated as a person. My work is my work and although I hope you like it I am not counting on it, I’ve already moved onto the next piece.