Marketing Mondays: Rejection. Get Over It

Rejection might seem like a downer of a way to start the Marketing Monday series, but the hope-dashing, nerve-breaking, thanks-but-no-thanks wall that stands between an artist and success is a looming constant. There’s no easy way to deal with it except to experience it, get over it and move on. Rejection is never pleasant, but until you get over it, you can never move on. Fortunately, you do develop a callus over the soft spot.

Here's my rejection story:
At the very beginning of my career--pretty much before I even had a career, actually--I had an appointment with a young dealer on 57th Street. When I arrived, an assistant instructed me to set up my work on the floor around the perimeter of the small carpeted viewing room. The dealer entered, took a cursory look at the work and, and without making eye contact said, “Thank you,” and walked out. I put my work back into my portfolio and left, stung by the curtness and impersonality of that 20-second encounter. (And did I mention that I'd made the trip down from upstate, rising at 4:45 am to catch the early train?)

The rejection became an enormous psychic scab as I picked at it endlessly. Surely she had seen something of interest in the work when she viewed the slides, hadn't she? Why, then, was she so uninterested in the work in person? Did I do something wrong? Was it me? I should have declined to put the work on the floor! I should have spoken up as she was leaving! I should have followed up with a note. The work isn't good; no wonder she didn't like it. I'll never have a career. Pick, pick, pick.

Over time, as small encouragements tempered that initial big rejection, and then small successes became more frequent, and then--hurrah!--there were bigger successes, I was able to let that rejection go. Actually, that rejection spurred me to get shown, get representation, get my career moving. That's why I could finally let it go. Eventually I again started to visit her gallery, which has followed the standard migration pattern of galleries in New York. In fact I admire the way she has stuck with her gallery all these years (not unlike my own dogged adhesiveness).

Out of the blue--well, because I put her on my e-mail list a few years ago--this dealer recently sent me a kind e-note praising the way I promote myself and my work via the Internet. "Believe me, I've seen it all," she said. She has no idea that I was a young artist she dismissed many years ago or the impression her brusque dismissal made on me. I'm not going to tell her, either. It's history. (But, you know, that note still felt good.)

Here's what I learned from that initial rejection:
. I allowed waaaay to much to ride on that one presentation. Talk about naive. I'd probably pinned all my career (such as it wasn't) hopes on that one visit
. I ceded her too much power. One person on one day saw a tiny slice of my oeuvre and found it not to her taste
. Consider who's rejecting you. My psychic slasher was a young dealer, probably as inexperienced in rejecting artists as I was receiving rejection. I'll bet she has gotten better at it over the years
. She was under no obligation to offer me a crit of my work. The fact that she responded so coolly was message enough that it was not to her taste. If she'd taken the time to speak with every artist at every presentation, she would never have had the time to build up her career
. I should not have capitulated to the request to put the work on the floor. Maybe it was her standard operating procedure, but if the work is meant for the wall, that's where it should be seen
Degrees of Rejection
"There are three kinds of rejection," says a curator at an art college in Maine. She calls them "levels." I'm paraphrasing here, but here's the gist of how she responds to presentation packages:
. Level One: a definite no. I respond with a short note that says, 'We feel your work is not right for the gallery. Thank you for thinking of us, and best of luck with your career.'
. Level Two: Although the work does not fit into the scheme of any exhibitions I have planned, I like what I see. I send the artist a note saying exactly that, asking them to stay in touch. If they do, a relationship begins. Who knows how it will culminate?
. Level Three: If I like what I see and think it might fit into the program, I ask to see more work. If the artist is nearby, I might call to schedule a studio visit. If distance is a factor, I would ask the artist to bring in some work so that I can see it in person and get to know the artist.

Many Reasons for a Rejection
Another dealer offers this insight (again, I'm paraphrasing): We can't have a conversation with each individual artist who sends us material, but here are some of the reasons we might reject an artist's work:
. We might love it but know that we don't have a collector base to support it. Much as we love to show art, we have to sell it to stay in business
. We might already represent an artist who fills that niche for us. We do want artists who fit our program, but if their work overlaps with what a represented artist does, we won't consider the applicant
. One of us might love it and one of us might not. [This is a common issue for business partners, I have learned]
. The price might be too high or too low for the gallery

No Means No--For Now
One dealer lives by the motto, "No means no--for now." Things change, she says:
. A new director comes in with new energy and ideas, stretching the parameters of the program
. An artist leaves the gallery and an appropriate 'slot' opens up on the roster
. An artist keeps us in his or her mailing list, and looking at a postcard image of the new work we see a breakthrough or a find that the new direction is right for us

Ball in your Court
"One thing I can tell you for sure," says the no-means-no-for-now dealer, "is that if we ask you to stay in touch with us, we mean it."
And how many artist have done that? I ask.
"A tiny percentage."

What's your rejection story?
And equally important: What have you learned from it? .What have you


Glenn said...

As you described your experience at the 57th street gallery I felt like I was in the room with you. Thanks for being so candid. Rejection certainly has a way of crippling us, especially when we put all of our expectations in the hands of others. While I don’t have a specific story to share, I do recall the numerous rejection letters received early on in my career and how much disappointment I felt. There were times I would be paralyzed for weeks on end. I will say that I have learned over the years to not take rejection so personally, especially when dealing with galleries. Perhaps that is easier said than done for many of us, especially when we believe our work to be an extension of ourselves. But for me that is reason enough to let the work stand on it's own… and that separation helps me to navigate the winding road of rejection.

Donna Dodson said...

My approach to rejection is 'so what' since it's not something you can control. The more applications, proposals and submissions I have out, the less the rejections hurt or even matter and the more likely I am to get something out of my efforts. They say you are allowed to follow up and ask why your application was rejected, and sometimes that has led to some great conversations where I've learned something valuable and even made contacts that led to opportunities, so I suggest that as a strategy since what you are fighting with when you are rejected is a passive sense of disempowerment and finding a way to be empowered and energized is the key to sticking with it, year after year, especially when you have work you want to show and sell and you are trying to navigate the business side of your career. What you are looking for is the people who are totally into your art and you- I think it's the wrong approach to try and convince people to be into your work- in other words, it's a soft sell, not a hard one.

Casey Klahn said...

Rejected from the center of the known art universe - quite a tale. Thanks for sharing that one, Joanne.

Perhaps because I accumulated several acceptances at art venues early in my career, I had a softer start.

My problem now is getting some interest from a gallery via seeing my work or postcard, but then getting the "keep in touch but no for now". I have several of those in my collection, now.

The best, of course, is a direct invite from the gallery. But,as I always say, I'm always looking for my next gallery.

Sheree Rensel said...

Oh gosh. Where do I start? Well, I will keep it simple and sweet.

I think my BEST rejection story was years ago when the city of Detroit was looking for artists for a public art project. This project involved big $$$. On a Friday, I got a letter saying my proposal was ACCEPTED and the check would follow. The following Monday, I got another letter which said there had been a mistake. The secretary had sent out acceptance letters to the rejected artists and vice versa.

I cried and cried and cried. Then I got mad and called this art lawyer I knew. He said the only way I could get anything from this is if I had gone out that weekend and spent all the money they had promised. I hadn't done that, so I cried some more. He told me to calm down and he gave me the name of a Detroit News reporter that would love this story.
I called him. The story ended up on the front page of the Detroit News with a picture of me with big, red swollen eyes!

What did I learn?
I learned how to get press. Tee hee hee

Anonymous said...

i love your story. it is so right on.

my story... my first and only (so far) rejection came from a really phenomenal local gallery. about a year ago, i was lucky enough to score a portfolio review from one of the city curators. he seemed very interested in my work and recommended i contact three galleries in town, 3 of the 4 hottest galleries here, and tell them he sent me.

i was shocked, excited and mortified. the one, i really wanted into, but didn't think my work was a fit. but whatever, he had to know what he was talking about, right? the owner and i traded a few emails, he requested a disk which i sent. he requested i bring stuff in, and i did.

the interview was challenging for me, coming from a corporate background. i wanted to answer questions based in fact, and he wanted to know about my motivations and drives. my emotion. i just couldn't figure it out. i have a hard time talking about my motives or emotions with my significant other, much less a complete stranger. the result being he was interested in the work, but he felt i was on an "edge", the precipice to something. he wanted to see my work again in a year or so. he was changing the format of the gallery,transition blah blah blah. he recommended i submit my work for review to an alternative exhibition space he's associated with and, anonymous to me, recommended me to the board for a city sponsored studio just being completed.

i took it as a solid defeat. it took me a while to realize everything that happened both in the interview and after. it didn't occur to me that wanting to see me in the future was a good thing. i was crushed. i haven't even checked out the other two galleries.

lessons? i've learned how to answer those kinds of questions and that a "no" for now is not a "not on your life". i feel very solid about the way i research galleries. and i know i have to remove the emotional aspect of presenting my work for review. i still get the defeated feeling when i see his monthly email newsletter. but i also know live and learn, and follow up. always follow up and express gratitude and respect. it's the right thing to do, and you never know what opportunities will be presented.

Anonymous said...

I've had a lot of successes in my career to date, which also means I've had a lot of rejections too in the course of putting my work out there. Some have been horribly painful, while others I've sloughed off without really feeling the sting.

I used to keep a big folder called "REJECTIONS." I was going to get rid of it, but realized there was some use in keeping track of who I had contacted, when, and what work they saw. I had a major attitude adjustment when I decided to rename my folder "CONNECTIONS (and rejections)."

Great advice Joanne, on paying careful attention to what the specific "no" really means, on following up, and on holding onto your personal power -- and self-confidence.

Adeaner said...

This is a wonderful thing you're doing - Thank you.

Anonymous said...

My rejection story: I was dumped a year ago by my first (and so far only) gallery in my Montana home town. The dealer was thrilled with my initial presentation, and sold a piece ten minutes after hanging it, but after that there were no sales for six months. I was not surprised by the time it happened, though I did originally have some hopes. But it was much better for me to have made that attempt and failed. I learned something about galleries and the-way-things-work, and something about my own work--nothing terribly useful, unfortunately, but still something. It motivated me to just work this past year without trying for any kind of show or recognition, and I think that was good. I've heard that gaps don't look good on a bio, but I believe the work has to be fundamental.

Stephanie Sachs said...

Thank you Sky Pape for the great idea about renaming your Connections File. I will be sure to use it. Our words and thoughts are an important part of who we are.

Reading all of your stories I know mine is slightly different and yet the same. The dirty little secret of the Maui Hawaii art scene is that most of the galleries take 77%! Without being a frequent flyer it is hard to expect Mainland galleries to want an artist at such a distance. Therefore, the best option for many artists here is to sell their artwork themselves.

Can you imagine how much rejection goes into setting up an art display once a week for over a decade! Last year for the first time I purchased some sales tapes. Want to know the surprising thing? The very first thing the speaker (Brian Tracy) talked about was overcoming rejection. What a shock even sales people hate rejection. His advice, do the thing you fear the most over and over and you will eliminate the fear.

Much success to you all.

Nina Marie said...

As a very new fiber artist, I only have one rejection story. I entered a strong piece in a juried show jumping through all the hoops the organizers set up. I sent in my fee which literally came out of my family's grocery money. Well you can see it coming - yep I got the thanks but no thanks letter. At the time I thought, "Only in America, can we give someone good money to get a rejection letter." I felt sorry for myself even though normally I'm a pretty confidant woman. The happy ending is that same week as the rejection letter, I had a stranger call me from a out of state. She had seen my piece when she was visiting my hometown and was wondering if I would sell it to her. I gave her the going rate for fiber work and I sold my first piece! $$ was a great pain reliever for the sting of rejection.
I find this blog VERY helpful, although I also want to make a comment on gallery rejections. I think every gallery owner has a few minutes to state the reason for rejection to the artist. Since there is an obvious synergistic relationship between artist and owner, it does not stand in either's best interest to forget common courtesy. You never know where this artistic journey is going to take you and who you might need for the next leg of it.

Donna Dodson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eva said...

I've had so many rejections that the only time I did a monolgue (as opposed to having guests join me) on my radio show was "My Rejections." I could actually do an entire broadcast based on that!

What I have learned is that there can be a small, potential "maybe" in what looks like a no and that you must be aware of it. If you've had a few rejections already - pretty soon it looks like everyone is saying no when it might not be true.

I had two years when everyone was saying no to me. It was really disheartening. I thought I had a group show coming up in an important gallery and then 9/11 happened. All the things I had lined up fell through. Slowly slides and portfolios were returned. Then I made some decisions - I was going to turn my small studio into a gallery and show my friends who were in similar positions. Screw painting for awhile. What was it bringing me anyway? I remember crying as I made this decision, going out into the word to pick up slides yet returned. I just wanted to close it all down for awhile, I was so discouraged.

Well the first gallery I went to did the usual routine. "I've come for my slides," I said. No thank you from them, no acknowledgement as they hand your life back to you, no kiss-my-ass, nothing. And then I went into the next gallery, which was a very beautiful big space. I had never heard back from them at all, but I did know them. I say the same thing "I've come for my slides." She looked at me funny. I begin to describe the work. Clearly she hasn't remembered it which of course does not make me feel great but this is life as an artist, isn't it.

So I pull out the slides I had just received from the previous gallery. She looks at it a long time and says she's got an opening coming up... I feebly say I could be in a group show blah blah... she says: "But Eva you've got a lot of great work here. You should have a big solo show. You could have one in July." Which was three months away.

I could hardly hear the yes, I was so used to the no. And I still changed my studio into a gallery for awhile - the idea of helping others when you feel like crap was hard to let go of and it was a good idea. But I still to this day think that gallerist was a fairy godmother. And I learned that only no is no and every other opening is an opportunity until you learn otherwise.

S. Dineen said...

This is such a great topic and so great to be reminded to calm down and look at the "degree" of rejection for that ounce of positivity instead of being instantly devastated.

I have two rejection stories that came back-to-back when I first began sending my work to galleries. The first came from another artist who is very well known in the Boston and Provincetown art scenes. On a whim I wrote to him asking for advice on sending work to Provincetown galleries, (mistake number one). I was fresh out of art school and like many of us had NO marketing skills. So why not ask an already successful artist for some feedback? I also included a few photographs of my work. About six months later I received a scathing, hand-written letter from this artist. He said he had recently found my letter in "a pile of trash" and didn't normally respond to such things. He went on to say that my work was "the worst painting he had ever seen." In his words, "Go back to your shed in the woods, NEVER SHOW THIS WORK." (I don't have a shed in the woods). He went on a bit more and reprimanded me for not including a self-addressed stamped envelope to get my images back. Needless to say I was devastated. Looking back though, I shouldn't have given his words so much weight. I was just shocked by the malicious tone of the letter.

The second rejection came shortly after that from the director of a gallery in Boston whom I was introduced to by a friend of mine that had just started showing his work there. He encouraged me to send my work to this gallery and introduced me to the director over drinks one night. Well, the drinks were flowing and the director and I ended up in the ladies room where she informed me that my work had no structure and there wasn't a chance in hell that it would ever be shown in her gallery. The weirdest thing was being in the ladies room for this news. Turns out my friend was sleeping with the director and she was upset that he invited me along for this outing in the city.

Looking back at these two experiences I have to laugh. But at the time I was so devastated. For about a year and a half I couldn't really paint, never mind continue sending the work out.

I eventually got over it, but in that process I neglected to recognize the the "please stay in touch" rejections. I had at least three of them I didn't follow up on. As hard as they are, these are good lessons to learn.

Joanne Mattera said...

So many interesting comments from you all. Thank you for responding. Allow me to respond to yours:

. Glenn has learned to separate the art from the artist. It's a tough surgery, but if you can do it, you're better off for it

. Donna Dodson has learned to engage the rejector. Are you talking about grants, Donna? I'm not sure dealers want to get so involved, given that they get dozens of submissions a month. Would you tell us more about your process?

. Casey wants more positive response via his postcards. Do you visit those galleries regularly? Even a brief conversation about the work on exhibition offers an opportunity for you to remain on a dealer's radar. Imagine all the postcards they get

. Sheree Rensel learned to get press. No "tee hee" here; press is essential. Hey, Donald Trump would just be some wealthy guy with bad hair from Queens if he hadn't learned early on to toot, toot, toot that horn

. Natalie: Snap out of it! Your "rejection" came with the best parachute I've ever heard of. If you haven't already thanked that dealer for the advice and leads and help s/he gave you, do it right now!

. Sky turned rejections into opportunities--OK only semantically, but it's a great way to take control of something over which one has little control

. Tackad: Thanks for the kind words

. Steve says he stopped showing for a year to concentrate on making art. Might there be a middle ground in there? Entering a couple of well-chosen juried shows possibly, or an open studio or a group show with friends--anything to balance yang with the yin?

. Stephanie says the gallery/artist split in Hawaii is 77% for the gallery. I have only one hypenated work for Hawaii artist: co-op! (There a SF gallery that takes 60 percent, but this is just stupefying.)

. Nina Marie mentions "the going rate for fiber work." What does that mean? Prices are all over the place, depending on the the artist (gallery representation, collections, resume, etc.)--and, of course, what the market will bear for the work

. Eva makes a great point: That sometimes we get so used to rejection that we don't know how to recognize acceptance

. S. Dineen: It's probably not too late to follow up on the "stay in touch" rejections. Remind them they invited you to stay in touch, and invite them to view your newest work on your blog or website. Or send a postcard with the same message. Not everyone looks at every e-mail, but most people look at a postcard and read the short message on the back

Stephanie Sachs said...

Aloha Joanne,

I appreciate you taking the time to respond to us all. Co-op. Ugh never again. You can do a whole blog entry on the dynamics of a co-op. I was the president and/or treasurer of a cooperative for over 7 years. The reasons gallery owners reject artists is because the owner sets a standard which is very hard to set in a co-op. Especially once an artist is accepted. If you are in a co-op make sure they have a limited number of artists running the show. Getting to consensus is an endless process. Rents here are so high I believe that the co-op I was a part of now takes 60%.

It took awhile but I have learned to love selling my own work, keeping my clients, and creating relationships. I am very grateful and I believe my collectors are too.

You don't dwell on the rejection when there is so much opportunity. Hey I sold two paintings today!

Pamela Farrell said...

My rejection stories are numerous, but I'll share one that especially reflects the roller-coaster-bipolar-up-and-downness of the business of art. Some months ago, I was contacted by a gallery in a major city in a southern state.

The director admired my work and wanted to know if I was interested in working with them. I checked out the gallery's website, and thought sure. I let them know I was interested, had a couple of phone conversations with the owner during which we discussed my work. The owner indicated that she was specifically interested in the "lighter and brighter" works. We both said we were looking forward to working together.

Shortly after that, I received a packet of material including consignment forms and a note saying how excited they were about my work. I promptly sent off jpegs of new paintings as she had requested, making sure to send my lightest and brightest, and then...nothing. Email from me to make sure they had received the images. Yes, they had. Period. Then nothing. A call from me, leaving a message, saying I was glad they had received the jpegs and was looking forward to hearing from them. And then, nothing. I assume my paintings were not light and bright enough. Oh well, their loss.

And that's the actual thought I had. But not too long ago, this would have devastated me. I'm sure I would have immersed myself in doubt and criticism. I guess I've learned to develop a thicker skin--as an artist, this is a necessity, as a psychotherapist (my other career) it can be a liability. Balance is the key for me. And in this case, I didn't allow it to feel personal.

Thanks, Joanne for this Marketing Monday Blog. Great idea!

Eva said...

One thing I wanted to add is that it's a little difficult for gallerists to always say why they can't or won't show you. It isn't critique time, especially if you have approached them. If they approached you (lucky you!) and then still eventually said no, then you might say well, what did you have in mind.

But otherwise there can be a million reasons why someone decides against you. People have their programs - they may actually like many things but they dont show many things. It gets very particular. I say this as someone who has curated many shows. One time an artist really pressed me for a decision - right then and there! I had been considering her but in a back burner kind of way. Still, I've shown plenty of artists who started that way and made their way to the front burner..... but her insistence for input really turned me off. If she was like that before I said anything, how would she be later on? So I just said no. That no was not about her work really. It was about her.

Donna Dodson said...

Donna Dodson has learned to engage the rejector. Are you talking about grants, Donna? I'm not sure dealers want to get so involved, given that they get dozens of submissions a month. Would you tell us more about your process?

When I was just starting out, I sent out a postcard with an image of my work on it and a synopsis of my resume on the back with the caption 'Seeking gallery representation' to a whole bunch of galleries in NYC that were listed in the ADA guides. I got 3 leads from that, 1 from a coop gallery in Chelsea, one from a commercial gallery in Chelsea and one from a gallery on 57th Street. I made an appointment with the gallery on 57th St that was followed up with her coming up to Boston to visit my studio but to make a long story short, nothing really ever came of it b/c she was interested in a body of my work that I thought was more experimental and when I was ready with a body of work I was more excited about, she was less interested. The follow up with the Chelsea Gallery was more interesting b/c the owner wound up curating my work into a show a few years later (stay in touch) but the coop in NYC I never joined. (Could that be a future topic?)
So, another scenario is with gallerists and curators that have juried my work into group shows, the stay in touch approach seems too work really well. They are happy to hear from you b/c they have told you they are not interested in your work, so there is no expectation, but why not add them to your list? Most of the time, they will add you to their list as well, and if you can start attending their shows and openings, that is progress. I've usually met artists that way- that led to introductions to their galleries. But these were artists that I LOVE and there was no expectation for something to happen- I just wanted to meet artists in person and see their work so I might call the gallery and ask about the opening, etc...

The follow up was specifically in relation to public art proposals where the decision is made via committee, oftentimes, the artists have been invited to go on a preliminary site tour, so I may have already met some of the jurors or made connections via other shows where I know they have seen my work and are interested in my work and even though the application procedures say do not follow up, I might reply to the rejection email with a follow-up question and if it's answered thoughtfully, then that's great, if it's ignored, no hard feelings. With public art, you might hear something like 'they wanted an artist who can create environments instead of objects' or you might hear something like, with $1 million dollar budget, the committee wanted a big name on the project' or even more to the point 'for artists who are starting out, look for a project with a budget under $100,000- most will get their start on something close to home' which is all good information. I've also gotten invitations to join professional organizations, attend conferences and join listservs to get calls to artists from these follow-ups.

My art teacher always said it's about the work you do in the studio, if that is going well, everything else falls into place.

Kaylie Abela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kaylie Abela said...

Our MassArt snow day has me interested in creating my own blog early. I like your post on rejection because it has a slightly hopeful tone and reminds me to think of the "big" people in galleries as, well, people. It reminds me of a chapter I just read from a book regarding feminist psychotherapeutic practice. It might seem off-topic, but emphasis is given to the client/therapist relationship, wherein both people should (ideally) hold equal weight in their discussion. Maybe if I think of gallery directors in this way, they wont be so intimidating when I eventually start to approach them. I can't wait to have my own rejection story someday... ! See you in class next Tuesday.
-Kaylie Abela

Rob said...

I'm an emerging artist but I also run a small gallery and I know from my gallery experience that there are a million reasons that artists are rejected, many of which don't have anything to do with the quality of the work. I can also tell you that it is a big risk for a gallery owner to accept an artist on just a portfolio and one meeting.

And even if you are rejected because your work really sucks, that doesn't mean that your work will suck forever. Except for a few proteges, everyone starts with bad work and through passion and persistence they build a body of work that is something. Rejection is personal but it should be tempered with the knowledge that it takes time. And if a gallery is encouraging and asks for updates, believe them, they want to see your work progress.

Thanks for the great blog topic, it should be a great help.

Tim McFarlane said...

Rejection stings, but looking back, there can be humorous memories. The funniest one I can recall was sending in a set of what I thought were REALLY good photographs of my work (instead of slides) in response to a 'call for entries' from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the late '80's.

Not only that, but my work at the time was pretty underdeveloped, even if they were pretty good pastel still life and landscapes for the time. The other problem was that the work was wrong for the show. Ah, youth...

Joanne Mattera said...

Donna says: "My art teacher always said it's about the work you do in the studio, if that is going well, everything else falls into place."

Donna, you offer so many good jumping-off points for a conversation. Bless you! I think your teacher is exhibiting old-school thinking. Of course, the studio work has to be good, but without the other half--or two-thirds--of the equation, one could easily end up like the poor skeleton in eageageag's comic that opens my "The Benefit of Your Wisdom" post a couple of posts down from here.

Donna Dodson said...

I agree & I like re-thinking submissions, applications and proposals as promotion and rejections as connections. Thanks for a great post on a subject artists KNOW first hand. It's not discussed often enough as a strategy you can manage.

Anonymous said...

I think this is the best post I've ever read on rejection!

Great Point on mentioning that when told to "keep in touch" with te gallery, very few artists do. They are missing out when they don't keep in touch.

Being an art agent and a seminar leader on art business, I often encourage artists to know that "no doesn't mean no, it just means no for now" (read my post on this topic writeen some time ago: )

If you are told "NO" please, try to see it as a business decision the gallery or client is making, and don't take it personal. Be sure to send a thank you note anyway, and mention that should they change their mind, you would love to hear from them.

Then, keep in touch - every 6 to 12 months, either call or write or e-mail a reminder that you are still here and still have something to offer them.

Eventually, a "NO" sometimes turns into a "YES"!

grovecanada said...

Ok, so I'm a child...I remember every single gallery rejection & have taken great pleasure in recent years, to purposefully ignore those people & galleries who hurt my feelings when I was so tender...I also enjoy championing those galleries who gave me that rare chance & honour & have stayed friends with as many as I can...& if any of those kind people fall into a ditch,many years later, I am there to help pull them out, no questions asked...
One thing I also have learned, is those that rejected me turned out to be beneath me anyway, insofar as I often found they had dubious reputations or art ethics & being rejected was actually a gift...Good art will get rejected by bad people, & bad art will get accepted by bad people...
I am a little childish in my emotions though, I know...

Anonymous said...


Another topic: responding to a bad review. Writer Carolyn See suggests sending the reviewer a thank you note. (!) "You can control how much you suffer," she writes in her book, "Making a Literary Life."

On critic reviewed one of her books with this comment:

"See writes embarrassing surfer prose."

She sent the reviewer a book on surfing with the note: "It isn't as easy as it looks."

She immediately felt much better.

To another reviewer she wrote:

"I'd rather be trashed by you, then praised by many."

The point of all this is to turn the rejection around - not to "attack" the reviewer, but to use a bit of "spiritual aikido," as See writes.

In other words, don't take it in, absorb it all, wallow in it. Flip it around.

Loretta (lolly) Owens said...

Thank you for starting this great conversation. I especially like Donna Dodson's attitude and will adopt it as my own. After being referred to a gallery by another artist, calling, being asked to send information and images, packaging materials according to their specifications, I did not hear a word from them. It was as if I never existed. Ouch! Keep going.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for writing such an insightful, honest and inspiring look at rejection. I admit that my fear of rejection, coupled with the few I've already received has made me terrified to approach galleries. This year, however I am making a bid to get past all that to really push my career forward - your post has helped with that enormously and I am going to bookmark it to help me conquer my fears!


Anonymous said...

i know i'm a little late coming back to this, i'm so sorry. there are so many awesome points here, i just wanted to say bravo to all participants. and thank you so much for responding to my post, joanne. always a source of excellent information and here a really remarkable dialogue. i, personally, am definitely working on setting things right with this gallery and develop that relationship whether it turns into representation or not.

Little Nova said...


I needed to read this today. :)

Seannon said...

I don't know if anyone else will find this helpful...

I had a job a few years ago that entailed a lot of rejection. I mean, a LOT. So I took a little 3x5 card and made a grid on it. I figured the day would be a success if I got 100 rejections, because at least that would mean I was getting off my butt and TRYING. Every time I got a rejection I'd get away from whoever said no, and then I'd check off a box and do a victory dance- jumping up and down, pumping my fist in the air going "YES!"

It got to the point where I would be perversely dissapointed by the "yeses" because I wouldn't get to do my rejection celebration.

That helped me get really comfortable with the no's. I think a LOT of artists would be a lot better off with a little card like mine- even if you only go for 100 rejections in a month, instead of in a day, you'd be putting way more effort into getting your work OUT THERE, and less into self-pity and self-protection.

Hope that's helpful!

Richard Shilling said...

This was a great read and at just the right time for me.

I have only just started approaching galleries. The worst rejection so far is not hearing anything at all, I realise they are busy, but even a small rejection note or email is better than nothing at all, the wondering why you have not heard anything is destroying and you think you will get the same response from everyone. But your post and comments have given me the courage to carry on and accept rejections as part of the course, and hope at some point you can get lucky and get a big break.

Thank you. :)

Anonymous said...

Yesterday I was laid off from my day job and today I was rejected by the only gallery in my small town. I'm glad I came across this post and comments, I know I can get back on my feet but right now I just need to read stories about other peoples struggles.

grovecanada said...

Dear Anonymous,

For every door that closes, another opens...That means you should be looking for either two new open doors, or one giant one!!!

Anonymous said...

It's just such a sort of bittersweet relief to see that we all deal with this. I posted something on my private facebook page about how I noticed the non-profit organization that just rejected my submission to an open call had used the vague "Dear Artist" in their rejection letter, but had been SOOOO certain to use my proper name in asking for donations... and none of my artist friends said a word beyond blathering on about how many shows they were getting into these days. I felt like, wow, well maybe it's just that I'm the only person I know who is getting rejection letters, then.

Anyway, rejection sucks, some days more than others - when it comes in waves or when the successes have been less frequent. But, damn, sometimes I have to remind myself that I live in a gallery-filled city like New York and I'm lucky when I get response emails at all, even a barely-polite "your work doesn't fit in to our programming." I remember when I was in my hometown and there were 5 galleries to choose from - and when you made those rounds to no avail, well, shit, time to hit the road.

I like the idea that there's victory in every rejection, like Seannon said - at least you're getting your work out there! Some people never have the courage to expose their work to others and get that nasty email or curt dismissal. I feel a lot better about this all now.

Anonymous said...

I've discovered that rejection is part of the process. Its going to happen! Even once you're established as an artist. How I've learned to deal with it is to expect it, go into a gallery knowing you'll leave empty handed and go on to the next. This attitude lessens the disappointment and makes the acceptance than much sweeter!