Since January, I have been rejected for six applications to various artistic institutions. It’s not easy, but at least the results are all back in . I won't get any more this year.
It is difficult to be open about rejection, particularly in the world of art. If you spread the news that you are getting a steady stream of PFOs (please fuck offs) , then perhaps other interested parties will back off. Presumably nobody wants to be associated with a six-in-a-row reject?
I don’t suffer from jealousy, so I’m genuinely glad for people who are selected for residencies or exhibitions when I am not… Instead of envy, I experience an accumulating sense of failure. What the hell am I doing applying daubs of greasy paint onto stretched pieces of cloth? Who needs this shit?
People say that “it’s part of the job” and “it’s still great to apply, you never know how close you came”, but I’m afraid this is all bullshit. You are either making it or you are not. The next consideration is whether you have the resilience to weather the rejections and keep going.
I have been painting and applying for open selection exhibitions and residencies and awards since 2016. It is a constant hustle and some of it has been very rewarding. Up until now I had the feeling that I was getting better and better at this game and that my paintings were improving, but now I think I’ll have to walk the plateau for a while.
The effort of the hustle is considerable.
First there’s money - should I take on private commissions and exhibiting opportunities that bring in some cash but have no kudos attached? Prestige is a premium commodity when you are trying to get your work out there, but it won’t pay the bills.
Then there is the business of hustling in general. It is an inherently anti-creative act. The more you sit at the computer trying to find ways of being recognised as an artist, the more your creativity seeps out from between your toes.
All these highly visible open-call exhibitions and tempting residencies that promise an elevated artistic version of yourself (one where you work all day in paint-splattered overalls, occasionally glancing at an inspiring vista outside the window, before joining a cohort of artistic types for dinner and urbane conversation) are quite literally a distraction from work.
The main thing an artist should be doing is making a body of work that represents a vision or a feeling or a reality or something! I know that I still haven’t managed to do this because of the distracting business of seeking recognition - all i want is a little ping in the inbox from someone "important" to tell me that I'm doing something good!
Of course rejection is the flipside of feeling desirable. It is made exponentially more painful when everyone else around you seems to be incredibly desirable. You see artists having exhibitions abroad and being pursued by curators and doing collaborations with whoever the hell, and you feel even more rejected. Then that sneaky, intrusive voice creeps into the corner of your consciousness and whispers “You could do better than that”, and your feeling of rejection is suddenly defended by its best friend - resentment.
We all know that Instagram has a lot to answer for in this destructive spiral of voyeurism and envy and despair. That app is so addictive and shows you so many possibilities of how things are done more attractively by other people that you can’t focus on the work you are doing. I haven’t quite got there yet, but I can see how some people end up painting for the ‘gram’ itself. After all, if you are not getting results from the hustle, maybe a few likes and hearts might make up for it.
I need to get off that thing - if I could afford to outsource publicity and the hard graft for relevance, I would! (crying laughing emoji x 3)
As well as the PFOs, there’s also a sense in the artworld that nobody who works in a gallery or in any kind of stakeholder role is approachable. Artists are told that they should not advance - they should wait to be noticed. So either you are desirable or you stand around with cap in hand and paintings under your oxter hoping for a wink or a nod.
The other way, of course is to say “Fuck them! I’m doing my own thing, I don’t care what they think”. Absurdly this would make you more desirable, but the needy part of the artist wants to be accepted into the fold. You want to be liked by the same people who like the desirable people. You don’t want to be reassured by nice people!