Rejection is something that every professional artist will face in their lifetime—most likely a multitude of times. Frankly, rejection hurts. There is no way around it. But, it is important not to crumble in the face of rejection. Instead, let it help you grow.
By leaning into rejection, it is possible to learn more about your audience, build your confidence, and become a better artist.
If you face rejection, it means you are being seen by someone. Take a moment to be proud of yourself for having the confidence to put your art out there and recognize that rejection often means you are pushing your own limits.
After you have given yourself the proper acknowledgment for the act of courage it takes to put creative work in a public space, move forward by keeping these do’s and don’ts in mind.
Don’t let rejection make you doubt yourself or skills.
There will always be critics. But, don’t let criticism paralyze you. If you let doubt and fear creep in because of rejection, it will stifle your creativity. Let rejection teach you more about who your best clients and audience actually are.
Don’t let your work take over who you are as a person.
Remember that rejection is not a reflection of who you are at your core. It may feel like you bared your soul with your work and rejection of your work can often feel like a rejection of you as a person. This is when it is a good time to take a step back.
Believe it or not, your work doesn’t define you. If you feel like it does, it might be a good time to re-evaluate your work-life balance and try establishing some better boundaries.
When you face rejection, you should not let it make you feel bad about who you are as a person. Remember that sometimes you need to leave your work in the workspace.
Do acknowledge the pain of rejection.
Pretending that rejection doesn’t hurt will only prolong the pain of it all. Most people want to move as quickly away from uncomfortable emotions as they can. But, the most successful artists know that by acknowledging that rejection made them feel vulnerable or hurt helps them move on from it.
If you are struggling to admit the sting of rejection out loud, try writing down a few things that you felt upon receiving the news. Then, write down a list of five or six things that you were successful at in the last week and five things you want to achieve in the next week. This will help you remember that one failure is not a complete failure and set you back on track to keep achieving.
Don’t feel like you are the only artist facing rejection.
Realize that the art business is competitive and has varying levels of opinions. Artists who are active in promoting their art will face both rejection and acceptance. The more you present yourself, the more you will get of both.
Don’t try and be “un-rejectable.”
Your job as an artist isn’t to be accepted to everything. Your job is to make work. Your job is to keep making better work. And, your job is to speak your truth and share it. Not everyone is going to love or even like it.
If you try and bend your work, style or ideas towards the direction to which you think you will be accepted, you still might miss the mark and you risk watering down your own unique vision.
Do treat yourself like a good friend.
Most of us have a tendency to talk to ourselves in a way that we would never respond to a friend or even acquaintance. Negative self-talk won’t help you move past rejection. Instead, treat yourself with compassion.
You wouldn't tell a good friend, “Of course you got rejected. This isn’t even worth it.” No. You would most likely give them encouraging feedback and help them remember what they are great at and convince them to keep going. Do the same for yourself.
Don’t sweep rejection under the rug.
Use rejection as a way to reflect on why your work is being rejected. Was it the actual piece? If so, what exactly about it caused it to be rejected?
Could it be the way you presented it? Do you need to take more time to develop a cohesive portfolio? Do you need to polish your supporting materials to make the way you present yourself more professional?
Lean into the rejection and use it as an opportunity to review your goals as an artist.
Don’t let rejection eat away at your motivation.
Lean into rejection and use it as a creative push. Keep trying and using your network to find the right opportunities for you. The most important thing to do in the face of rejection is to keep going. Remind yourself of your goals. Write down where you want to be in a year, five years and ten years. Use this as motivation to keep going, even though your ego may be bruised.
If you need some help finding opportunities that are a good fit for you, here are five resources that can help.
One of the best ways to stay motivated as an artist is to build a solid network to connect and learn from.