How to deal with artistic rejection is the topic of my newest comedy bit since my favorite comedy is rooted in truth and sadness. In my bit I exaggerate and make fun of rejection, whereas in real life it is sometimes hard to do just that. As long as you make art, you will be rejected. The only way for no one to hate you is to leave the paper blank. How can you keep on making art with all the scars rejection has given you? I made these guidelines and posted them on my instagram stories some weeks ago. I got lots of feedback for it so I’m posting them on here too. They’re a hybrid of personal insights, all those self-help books I once read and good conversations with artist friends. Thanks for that.
- Don’t let it break you. Keep on doing what you love! Remember why you’re creative in the first place. Don’t stop.
- Don’t change your art for people that don’t matter. Let’s say a certain institution rejects you. Ask yourself, why do you want them to accept you so badly? Do you really fit in there? Would you have to change the core of your work for them to like you? That’s the artsy equivalent to angsty teenagers doing shit to be friends with shitty people. Don’t do that. Find a way to get appraisal from the right institutions.
- Rejection means: people see you and your work. Just keep it up until the right people see it. Seek people that like you and not just tolerate you.
- Keep praise from friends and fanmail in a feel good folder. Go through it when you think everyone hates you. Because that is never true!
- Not everyone will love your art. And that’s good. If you really want to appeal to everyone, you’ll eventually water down your art and it will be printed on cheap postcards at tourist shops. The more specific your art the more specific is your target audience. Finding that is hard, as I can tell you gladly with my three fans.
- Feel the pain somatically. Can you turn it into creative energy? Like make a sculpture with a buzz saw, draw a watercolor with tears and mascara, go on a gun rampage with a paintball gun, write a funny diss track? What do you feel? Anger? Anger can paint great paintings, write deep jokes and beautiful songs. I don’t glorify pain, but often today’s tears become tomorrow’s soil.
- Remember your work is not you. This is especially hard to acknowledge as a stand-up comedian. When the audience hates you, they hate your essence. Still, I try to separate Ingrid from stage Ingrid, an even more brazen, ballsy, callous version of me. Keeps me sane.
- Many others get rejected, too. You’re not the only one experiencing it. Don’t feel special, ha! Read biographies of famous artists. Which hardship they went through to follow their dreams. (I don’t know if this is just the urban legend of Arles, but apparently, Van Gogh has never sold one paining in his lifetime). By sharing your own story you can connect with others, who feel the same. Just don’t get dragged into an unproductive, downward spiral of lamentation and self-pity. Lament and then get back to work. These jokes don’t write themselves.
- Spoil you inner child. Remember what makes you happy. Now do that! That chocolate cake, a warm bath, a visit to the circus? Do it!
- Can you learn anything from it? Maybe there was some tiny truth in that rejection mail from that art school afterall? Maybe there is something I can actually do better? We can often improve either our art or our attitude, after we wiped away those tears.
- Now, focus on your next steps, what’s ahead, the future, new goals, good people that matter!
None of the above tips work for you? Well, there is one last, tiny truth, that hurts the most about rejection:
People do not get hired based on quality. Booking is arbitrary. No matter how much in control you are about your work, at some point you run into industry walls. It is merely up to you and your personal capacity to endure pain: you either jump over that wall, turn your back at it or smash your head against it.
Steve Martin’s famous quote „be so good they can’t ignore you“ is a myth. If you are that good, you will not need them anymore.
Institutions reject good artists. That’s a common industry practice, so their own prima donnas won’t get scratched. If a music label builds up the next star, they buy up all similar artists to eliminate competition. German has a beautiful word for this: Karteileiche („card file corpse“ – a sleeping member, no one intends to wake up). Besides that, institutions send out harsh rejections to keep up a climate of fear to hold on to a respect and artistic relevance they have lost long ago.
So here’s my last advice: Surround yourself with good people to stay sane. Develop and take care of meaningful friendships. Painter Rose Wylie says „unsuccessfulness gives you freedom.“ Stay independent. Find a source of happiness outside of your art. Be good to yourself. <3