rejection as an artist
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How to Handle Rejection as an Artist

The same area of the brain that is activated when the body experiences real physical pain is the same area that is stimulated when we are confronted by failure or rejection This is why rejection often feels like a hard punch to the gut–although the pain is emotional the sting is all the same. Experiencing rejection as an artist, unfortunately, simply comes with the territory. In the digital age, the potential for feeling rejection as an artist is multiplied by a medley of social media apps that allow us to check in on the successes of our colleagues, email inboxes experiencing a radio silence of inquiries and responses or comment sections or websites where our work can be torn apart by critics and anonymous trolls, alike.

So how exactly do you power through the valleys of financial insecurity, self-doubt, inspirational dry patches, and rejection as an artist? Artrepreneur chatted with five artists and creatives to find out how they survive it.

On Overcoming Self-Doubt

Tatiana Mac is a Portland-based art director and interactive designer. Over the years, she has built a portfolio that includes work that reaches all the way from designing logos for small local brands up to building campaigns for large multinationals like Taco Bell and Nike. This is what she had to say about overcoming  moments of anxiety and self-doubt that can arise from feeling rejection as an artist:

Imposter Syndrome is real. In Budapest, I saw a great talk by Denys Mishunov about Imposter Syndrome and how to deal with it. You just can’t compare yourself to other people. It’s that same principle that when we look at Instagram or Facebook, we’re comparing our daily routine to someone’s highlight reel. While sites like Behance and Dribbble are tremendous sources of inspiration for creatives, they can become a sort of methadone for imposter syndrome. The jealousy component usually comes from deep-seated insecurities. When I am in that dark place, I remind myself that I bring a unique set of skills to the table that is different from this insanely talented illustrator or unicorn designer-developer hybrid. I can waste my energy moping about how that person is more talented than I am (which is an impossible metric to verify) or I can spend that energy sharing knowledge and/or gaining the knowledge with this person. It’s easier said than done, but it’s about energy placement. We have to place most of our energy on working towards what we want, rather than what we wish we had.

rejection as an artist
“Flight of the Bikylries,” an illustration by artist Tammi Henevald. Courtesy of the artist.

On Powering Through The Sometimes Frustrating Side Hustle

Kristen Liu-Wong is a Los Angeles-based artist whose paintings and illustrations explore the dynamics of power and sexuality within a subversive, feminist dreamscape. A stream of commercial illustration work finances her painting but it often comes with strings attached – Liu-Wong is often faced with clients who find her art too risky for their commercial design goals. On powering through her side hustle and working through client pushback, Liu-Wong had this to say:

“You are always going to run into this problem when you’re working in illustration. It can be extremely frustrating when it feels like clients are overly nitpicking at details that seem irrelevant or when they want to change something or, in my case a lot, censor what you liked best about the piece. This situation isn’t unique because it comes up all the time. It really depends on the job, but you do need to learn when to push back, and I’ve also learned that my time is extremely valuable. So now, I typically limit the number of revisions I will do or I have a fee for additional changes. It’s hard not to feel frustrated and disheartened when situations like this arise, but you have to just tell yourself to focus on finishing the job and if I’m being completely honest, the paycheck. Illustration work is what helps to make it possible for me to paint. I try to have fun with it and if it stops being fun, that can just be a part of the job and I have bills to pay so I have to just deal with it.

On Living Through Financial Insecurity as an Artist

Tammi Heneveld is a designer, illustrator, and comic designer who for many years worked freelance from her Bozeman, Montana outpost and confronted the woes of setting rates and facing the financial challenges inherent in freelancing. On dealing with financial insecurity as an artist, Heneveld said:

“Learning to deal with dry spells and financial insecurity as an artist took me a long time, mostly because I wasn’t able to recognize those ebbs and flows as inevitable aspects of being a freelancer that can be anticipated and therefore dealt with more smoothly. There have been several times in the past when I was flat broke due to not having enough work, and it sucked—there’s no way to polish that turd. The only way I got through it was with the help of some seriously compassionate friends and family members who wanted to see me succeed enough to help me out (i.e. lend me money, give me a shoulder to cry on, feed me, etc.). I would never have managed without having an incredible community of people around me. It feels pretty brutal and embarrassing at the time, but you just have to pick yourself up, have faith in your ability to survive, and get back on your grind. And during times of plenty, it’s super important to stock away a portion of your income into a “safety net” fund and learn as much as you can about finances so that you feel empowered to make it through your next dry spell.”

On Moving Past Rejection as an Artist

Peter Drake is a New York-born artist, curator, and the Dean of Academic Affairs at the New York Academy of Art. When asked about moving past rejection as an artist, he told us about a degrading viewing at a New York City art gallery.

“I had literally a six-foot roll of drawings, and I was going to galleries and trying to get people to look at my work. One day I was completely disillusioned because I had been invited to show my work for this gallery and I had to put it all over the floor. All of a sudden, the Director comes in and she says “not for me” and walks away. So I’m sitting there on west Broadway with my dumb roll of drawings and all of a sudden this guy walks up to me, this complete stranger, dressed like a hippie. Cowhide vest and tie-dye jeans, the whole thing. He sat next to me and said, “Are those your slides, can I look at them?” I said sure, so he sat next to me and says “You know there’s a gallery that just opened up on Prince Street. I bet they’d like your work. You should go take a look.” And then he walked away. It’s literally the only time I saw this guy, I never saw him again.

So I walked over to that gallery and walked up to the desk and the owner was there. I asked, “Are you looking for artist work” and he said “Sure, put it out on the floor” and I thought oh no, not again. So he takes a look at them and he calls his wife over – she was his business partner – and they say “Do you want to be in a three-person show next month?” The point was I had to go through the humiliation of being willing to be rejected over and over and over again until – I refer to him as my hippie fairy godfather – he finally found me.  Sprinkled some fairy dust on me. But if I weren’t sitting there looking forlorn, he would not have come up to me. Everything just fell into place in a weird way.”

financial insecurity as an artist
Caro Niño’s graphic design work incorporates elements of nature with vibrant color. Courtesy of the artist.

On Visualizing The Bigger Picture

Colombian-born, Buenos Aires-based graphic artist Caro Niño’s work explores the mystery and beauty of the natural world from within a bright kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. Her vision has landed her gigs with the likes of Adidas, and her current gig as the go-to designer for Colombian band Bomba Estereo. On powering through challenges of facing rejection as an artist, Niño said:

“As you construct your career you move along a personal and professional path that evolves and presents you with many obstacles, but with every challenge is a new experience that makes us better at what we do. I think that confidence in our vision is what allows us to overcome whatever obstacle. I have never felt lesser than another artist or that my work was not good enough to be appreciated. To the contrary, I have always trusted my creative ability and personal and professional philosophies. It is important to be sincere with ourselves. If you are measuring everything based on some arbitrary ideal of ‘success’, the slightest bit of failure is going to tear you down. I think that a good piece of advice for staying up and moving out of difficult moments is learning to accept criticisms as a point of growth rather than a personal attack. Critiques are opportunities to see yourself reflected from another point of view, and take from that an opportunity to grow and move forward.”

How do you deal with rejection as an artist? Let us know in the comments.

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About the author

Kevin Vaughn

Kevin Vaughn is a writer and photographer focused on food and culture based out of Buenos Aires, Argentina. His freelance work has appeared in Munchies, New Worlder, Remezcla and Savoteur, and he pens a weekly restaurant column for the BA based news and lifestyle site The Bubble. When he is not writing he is giving customized food tours to hungry travelers via his company Devour Buenos Aires or is making tacos for his Mexican inspired traveling pop-up MASA.

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  • This article really touched me because this is something all artists seem to deal with throughout their careers but never really want to talk about truthfully.

    As a young artist about to enter into this cold and scary world, articles like these really help me prepare for the realities of what being an artist will present. I’m beyond grateful for this website and how much it encourages artists to continue on their path but with realistic ideas of what life as an artist will be like.

    Please do keep up the amazing work. I look up to you all.

    – Venus