Thursday, July 23, 2009

Showing up and playing...

The other day I was at Trader Joe's, with my bags in hand as I was checking out. The cashier asked if I wanted to enter the drawing to win a gift card - a "reward" for bringing my own bags (as if saving our planet isn't reward enough, but that's another post). I almost said no, because I fill out a ticket every time–and haven't won yet. But then I thought about the saying "you can't win if you don't play," which I often use to encourage people who ask about entering a show or submitting work to a book or event. So I filled out the ticket–again.

This lead me to thinking about entering, submitting, and the whole jury process for artists. It seemed like a natural topic to follow validation. Woody Allen is quoted as saying "80% of success is showing up." I think that goes hand in hand with "you can't win if you don't play." Many people don't even try to submit work because they don't think their work will be accepted , or they fear rejection.But in order to have any chance of being accepted, you have to show up and play.

I've been on both sides of the jury process over the years and know that there are always going to be people whose work is accepted and rejected. Recently I acted as a juror again, and as expected, had to "reject" some of what was entered. There are always more entries that spaces. As a part of a team, I knew there was also a subjective factor. It's human nature to rank things a bit differently, despite certain criteria. With space constraints, the pieces that received the highest overall rankings were ultimately accepted. The others faced rejection.

I always think about those whose works are rejected-especially when they are new to the experience. It's tough to face it the first time. But never let that rejection shut you down. We know that there are many reasons for rejection and it doesn't necessarily mean that the work doesn't have merit. Depending on the show, event, or book there could be any number of reasons for the outcome. For a show, it may have to do with what the jurors envision. Or it may be that you "just missed" the cut, space-wise (too many jewelers applied, for example). Maybe it was the quality of the image submitted. Look at what was accepted and see how your entry might differ.

Once I had the same pieces rejected from a show that had been previously chosen to appear in a book. When I later viewed the show, I understood that what I submitted didn't fit with the jurors vision of the show–which probably became clear as they viewed the entries and how they might relate to one another to create a cohesive show.

If you face rejection, ask some questions. Was this my best work? Was it truly unique? Did I pay attention to detail, craftsmanship, design? Did I photograph the best possible view? Should I have opted for a professional photograph? And for more input, or if you experience repeated rejection, try to get some suggestions from a teacher or professional artist. Know that the more you enter, the easier it gets to separate yourself from that risk of rejection. Of course, acceptance gives us a great sense of validation, but we can learn from rejection. It's part of the balance. And when you're accepted, be thankful, and remember that someone else probably wasn't–it really keeps things in perspective.


  1. Thank you for sharing your views - good to hear from someone that has been on both sides of the table.

  2. Thanks for this, its very hard when you start to submit work and not to have it accepted. All the points you make are what we know with our rational minds, buts still hard to submit again when you have been rejected. I guess we all want to be liked and its hard to separate our work being rejected from ourselves being rejected. But I thought this was a very positive blog - will keep on sending work in!l

  3. Thank You!
    I enjoyed reading your blog!

  4. This is a wonderful post, Cathy. I am still struggling with how much time and effort I should invest in my art work when it already takes up the majority of my "non-day-job" time, but maybe part of not submitting has been a lack of confidence in the quality. As I read your post I realize that the act of submitting it, in and of itself, would help me to examine what I'm doing with a more critical eye! Thanks!

  5. Wonderful post! Thanks for the perspective.

  6. Another question to ponder is whether you actually participated in the jury experience. I was feeling quite subdued by failure in your jury, only to find I somehow sent the package to an outdated address. Lesson learned: double check everything!

  7. OOOh Vicki... ouch... that's got to be such a frustrating discovery (but I suppose at least you have an explanation...).

    Thanks for sharing your lesson - you may have saved another from the same result. "Double check everything" is great advice!

  8. Thanks for this pep talk Cathy. Always good to hear since what we make is so close to who we feel we are.

    I sent that entry to the wrong address too and because I got an email a few days before the due date with the correct address, I got another chance to submit. But I was "rejected" for real. After a few days of feeling subdued, I did get on with new projects and was quickly immersed in work and left those feelings behind. Thinking back I realize that we really don't win them all and maybe the fact that more people are submitting is a good thing and not a reason to throw up our hands in frustration and feeling like we aren't good enough.

    There is after all doing your best and working on work worth doing. It is keeping me going.