Friday, March 7, 2014

Why You Should Ride the Rejection Train

Years ago, I decided to take a ride on the Art Train. To a young naive art student, it sounded so exciting to take this trip. Exotic destinations, accolades, fabulous wealth, fame, permanent placement in museums of world renown. I bought my ticket and jumped on board. I chugged merrily along in my wide eyed naivete, enjoying new projects and challenges, paying my dues and improving my craft. Someday it would pay off, I assured myself. It was going to be a long trip but I was in it for the long haul. Some of the stops were memorable, like my first picture book or the first time I got my work in Communication Arts. Others not so much, but those are subjects for another post, or no post at all.

I've been on the train for a long time now. Every now and again the ticket taker comes along and asks for my ticket. Ticket? I know I bought one, way back when I boarded the train.Where is it? But Mr. Ticket Man insists that if I don't have one, I must get off the train. I scramble through my pockets searching in vain, but nothing I do makes the ticket materialize. It has vanished- Poof- into thin air. Like a punch to the gut, I realize I'm not going to be making it to the next stop. I have to get off. That's what rejection feels like.

I used to take rejection very personally. If someone didn't like my art or had something negative to say about it, I felt like I was a failure. My art was an extension of who I was and it hurt. I have since grown much more philosophical about rejection. I have learned something from the countless "no thank yous" I have endured over the years and it is this:

The fact that I got rejected says much more about the person rejecting me than it does about me.

I heard it once said that we should learn to love and embrace rejection because it points out to us those people that have no desire to align themselves to our visions and passion. If we don't let them clutter our lives with doubt or keep holding out hope that someday they will come around, we can make room to find the people that will allow us to progress and succeed. Find your believers and along the way, I think the key is to keep working. 

I have entered and been rejected by countless professional illustration shows over the years. Once in a while I get something in, but I had long since given up wishing for a Gold Medal. For years I held that up as some sort of Holy Grail. I thought that if I could somehow earn one of them, I'd be on my way. After enough rejection, I decided to change destinations. Just do good work and enjoy it, I thought. That's enough. Well, a few weeks ago, I found out I won a Gold Medal from SILA- the Society of Illustrators Los Angeles for my illustration Grasshopper Hunter. Sometimes you get what you want when you stop wanting it so badly.

It feels nice, I will not lie, but it's not what defines me as an artist anymore. I still have a lot of things to create and things to prove to myself, even if nobody else cares. But it's not about the destination anymore. It's about the journey. I have to create the art that I want to create, to make the paintings that I can't wait to get into the studio to work on. I need to do the things that make me smile with satisfaction when the signature goes on. Outside voices will never give you that inner validation. You have to give it to yourself. Of course you should never ignore or summarily reject any criticism of your work that accompanies rejection. It should be analyzed and dissected with the intent of using it to improve your work, but do it in a non emotional way. Some may be subjective, but some will be helpful. As difficult as it may be, you have to separate your personal identity from your creative output. Don't take criticism personally. Keep riding the train and polishing your work and sooner or later, you will find yourself always with ticket in hand and looking forward to your next exciting stop. All aboard!


Kathy said...

Great post! I feel the same way. I gave up worrying about the rejections a long time ago. After all, it's basically one or two people's opinions. I've had art win Best of Show in one show and not even place at another. (Although on a much more local venue than you are at!) But it is nice to know that continuing to enjoy the making of art can someday reap some rewards! Happy art`making!

Unknown said...

Thanks Kathy. I agree, you just have to keep making art and entering. The only guarantee I know of is that if you don't enter, you won't win!

Dave Kapah said...

Thank you Greg!

Unknown said...

Thanks for reading Dave!

Amy said...

So important to have inner validation! I wish it weren't such a painful lesson to learn sometimes! Great post.