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Rising Above Discouragement

A few weeks ago, I posted about how I overcame my fear and entered a few paintings into a very big, very competitive juried show. I mean, the awards are competitive, but the real goal for me was just getting in. Out of over 950 entries, about 250 were actually accepted into the show.

My work wasn’t accepted.

Even though I knew it was going to be competitive, I was a bit bummed out. For the weeks leading up to the announcement, I walked the fence between hopeful confidence and not getting my hopes up. I visualized getting into the show, I found several other shows to enter in case that one didn’t work out, and I told myself that I’d be ok either way.

I am ok, but when I went to the museum to pick up my paintings the other day, that black cloud of discouragement settled over me. That museum is one of my favorite places in the entire world because it’s always quiet and full of gorgeous art. It’s a great place to think; especially the back room where the abstract work is always hung in this show.

This day, the museum wasn’t quiet. It was busy and rather noisy after the bustle of the opening the night before. The door to that wonderful back room was open and all the noise from the other side was coming in. I studied the work in the show; amazing, as expected. I wanted to get an idea of what I can improve to help my chances of getting in next year, but the closer I looked at the perfect details and flawlessly crisp lines, the more I felt myself retreating into my little cave of fear. How will I ever compete with this kind of work? Will museums and gallery ever see the value that I see in my work? Will I be able to communicate my message clearly? Will/do people really connect with my art?

My brain knows that my work treads the fine line between the realism and purely abstract works that usually get into that show. I know that people love my art, because they tell me all the time. Not necessarily people in the “art world”, but people who feel free to enjoy art for it’s own sake. I know that I’m just starting out. I know that my art isn’t about perfection in the slightest, and that it might be better suited to homes than museums, but my heart didn’t believe it just then.

I cut my visit a little short and asked the volunteer at the front desk for my work, and she took me down into the basement of the museum, where I’d never been before. The entire basement was just PACKED with sculptures and paintings. Hundreds and hundreds of pieces. We found one painting right away, but the other one wasn’t where it was supposed to be, so I got to help the volunteer search through all the other works to find it, which was fun because I got to look at a ton of great stuff. On the one hand, seeing the quality of the work that didn’t get accepted made me feel better, because not getting in doesn’t mean that my work sucks, or even that they didn’t like it. Again, my brain knows this, but our emotions don’t always listen to our brains. One the other hand, it made me feel worse because if amazing art like that didn’t make it in, do I really have a chance?

There are plenty of other shows coming up, so hopefully I’ll get in somewhere. That doesn’t really worry me. I have some ideas to try that may improve my chances of getting in, and I did get some really fun ideas from looking at the work in the show, like attaching smaller canvases to the bigger ones for more dimension, mixing my paint with gloss medium, and stuff like that.

The problem is that I haven’t much felt like painting for the past few days. My brushed feel awkward in my hands, the colors haven’t been blending right (I don’t think I like the new brand of paint I’m trying), and I’ll admit that I’m kind of second-guessing myself. I collaged a little bit, just for fun. No matter what though, I cannot let discouragement hurt my passion. It doesn’t matter if I don’t get into a show, or if I compare myself to other artists, or even if my colors don’t want to blend.

Even if I never get to make a living as an artist, if I never get into a show or no one ever buys my work, I’m still an artist. Nothing can take that away from me. Even if I lost everything somehow, I’d still draw pictures in the dirt with sticks. I’d still get excited when I see cool trees against a colorful sky. This is true of every artist whether you’re an actor, writer, musician, whatever. If no one likes what you do or if you blow an audition, get five rejection letters in one day, or get booed off a stage, you’re still an artist.

This probably seems like a lot of drama over nothing, but I think everyone feels like this at some point. We don’t get promotions. We dont get the part. We get shot down when we finally get the courage to out that cute coworker. Our inner Simon Cowell tells us to quit what we’re doing and take up accounting instead.

I have no doubt that I’ll be successful. I know I can stand to build up a thicker skin, but that process is a tough one. So what do we do when we feel small and insignificant compared to the world we’re trying to be a part of?

Well, I put on my Beats and blast my tough girl music (at the moment, I’m listening to Van Halen. I know, I’m a monster.) and I write, or I paint something just to paint, or I stare at the ceiling and realize how good it feels just to be laying there with a fully functional body. We just keep going, that’s all. Music does help though.

All right, it’s your turn to gush. Any rejection stories? When did you feel discouraged? How do you get past it?