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Real Talk : Rejection

By Humboldt Magnussen

When I was younger my oldest sister decided she wanted to become a model. She was 15 and I thought she had a good chance and I thought I knew what I was talking about given how much I learned about the modeling world from TV show America’s Next Top Model staring Tyra Banks. However I was also worried for her because the modeling world is full of rejection and disappointment. I just pictured her being told she was not good enough or fierce enough for the business. Her interest in being a model soon faded, we lived in Saskatchewan after all, and the only modeling opportunities were at the local mall. However it has always stuck in my mind that I would never want to be in an occupation that is so full of rejection and competition because it would be too difficult.

Flash forward to the future: I am an artist and rejection is the only thing that is constant, and being judged and compared to others is part of my life. I have been told a number of times that I have to get used to disappointment, and that it’s a fact of being an artist. However rejection, though necessary, sometimes feels worse then it should. Especially those times when you don’t receive a rejection letter or email, and the waiting and wondering can last for a considerable amount of time until you just give up hope that you were accepted. This is by far my biggest annoyance. Rejection letters should be sent, and there are not a lot of exceptions I would give to justify not sending one. Some organizations specify a date by which you should hear a response if you are accepted, and if you don’t hear by that date you should just assume you were rejected. I think this is only okay if the organization is literally dealing with a thousand submissions. Otherwise they should just type in everyone’s email and send a generic rejection, at least that way you know the outcome and don’t spend any more time thinking about it.

Another issue I have with applying for things is that the jury process often lasts several months. If you propose a work in progress that will require a lot of time and energy you don’t necessarily want to be waiting three months to start working on it. Or in another case you may apply for a specific call for submission and while waiting for several months to hear back you end up making the piece because you feel you have a good chance only to find out that your proposal was rejected. Perhaps you wasted time and material on a work that does not fit in completely with your other production. Of course organizations are busy but it would be a breath of fresh air to hear back within a month or two.

Rejection is a part of being an artist. People often say that you have to apply to ten things to get one opportunity. This may be true, I still apply and even sometimes regret not applying for things after the fact, because even if you get rejected there could be some good that comes in the future through having the Jury or curator see your work. It is a very competitive world, and it may not get any easier. In the future there will likely be even more artists and the resources, galleries, grants et cetera will only become more thinly spread. I guess I don’t have very much advice when it comes to dealing with rejection. It feels terrible and often can discourage you from applying for a second time. However, you have to just apply again and again and eventually wear them down. If you really want something and feel you are a good fit, apply until you get it. Keep in mind that organizations often also have policies regarding whether or not they will give feedback on proposals. Check before asking whether they will give you feedback, and don’t be surprised if you receive generic feedback such as your project didn’t fit well with the rest of the programming accepted, or they received a lot of applications and couldn’t possibly accept them all. It may even be the case that the committee or curator had something specific in mind when they sent out the call for proposals, and your project just didn’t meet what they had in mind. When it comes to submissions I find I am less successful when I procrastinate and do it the night before, have lower quality documentation, and don’t take the time to have someone read over my application. Rejection is very difficult and unfortunately there are not ways to get around it. The best thing you can do is become aware of submission protocol, including when you will hear from the organization, and do your research so you find opportunities appropriate for your work.