Artist Masterclass: Rejection


Artist Masterclass is a series of conversations between myself and visual artist Sara Bloem

SB: I have some not so great news. I got rejected from a grant this week. I was mentally prepared for this, but it’s not what I expected, if you know what I mean.

CL: No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, it still hurts. Rejection is so painful every time.

SB: Do you have any advice on rejection? I just assume that since you’ve achieved so much, you must have encountered rejection at least a few times.

CL: You have no idea how many times I’ve been rejected. Here’s my advice: let the rejection sting momentarily, and then you forget about it.

SB: I think this is the first time I’ve been really rejected. I think I need some time to absorb it and figure out what to do next.

CL: You should keep applying. I’ve applied every year to the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant since I was 21 and I have never won. Don’t feel bad, this is part of the process of being an artist.

SB: I feel like it’s so important to keep in mind that rejection is part of the process, and not to brood about it.

CL: I hate to tell you this, but you should get used to this feeling, because it will happen again….and again…and again…and again…

SB: It’s starting to feel like you really have to claw your way up, so to speak. But I like a challenge.

CL: I had some rejections that really hurt, like when I applied to my top choice for grad school. When I saw the thin envelope in the mail I burst into tears.

SB: I can really relate right now. Taking the long view – I think it’s normal to feel upset, but you just have to keep going.

CL: You know what I do for my grant applications? I mark up my calendar every year with the deadlines and compulsively apply all the time. I put the applications in the mail, and then I forget about them.


SB: Yeah, it seems like you just have to see it as it is: a numbers game. Of course, it’s hard not to invest personally in it. At these times I guess I just have to remember that the only person who will fight for what you want is… you. So if this is what I want, I just need to keep on trying. No one said it’d be easy!

CL: This is the tip of the iceberg, you’re getting a preview of what life as an artist will be like! Don’t let this get to you, this is part of the package of being an artist. Remember what Randy Pausch says.. “the brick walls are there to show you how badly you want things.”

SB: I read an op-ed column in the New York Times today that centered around the quote: “I can’t go on. – I’ll go on.” I was thinking about it today after reading the rejection email. I guess it really helps because it expresses how even when you think you’ve hit a brick wall, it’s part of life to grow past it and go on.

CL: I once went to a printmaking conference and heard the artist Faith Ringgold speak… she said that you have to “outlast everybody.” You have to stick around long enough. Still, it hurts so much to go on sometimes, even though you know that’s what you have to do

SB: I’m beginning to to suspect that uncomfortable situations are what fuels growth,
though I wish they weren’t.

CL: I try to focus on the people who really clawed their way up and succeeded. When one of my colleagues won the Guggenheim grant, it made me so incredibly happy. There’s nothing like seeing someone who is so deserving of an honor like that.

SB: When one of your close connections succeeds, it feels good for everyone. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”


3 thoughts on “Artist Masterclass: Rejection

  1. Interesting topic here. I only ONCE entered into a local exhibit at the art league. About 120 paintings or so. Maybe I had too high of hopes but I thought mine would win something! About 25 awards. Nothing. And i did think mine was worthy of it after i saw some of the other award winners. I’m very sensitive as i know we all are, but I’m not entering again. Judges are not the know it all hub of the spokes which would be us artists. They are just opinionated people like us artists too. And some have bad taste! I saw these right from the start. It’s almost laughable really looking “down” on such poor judgement. But, my decision is to just not go thru that again there.

  2. I believe the heart cannot let go of what it has not grieved. Clara said to feel the sting and then let it go. Feeling the sting is to grieve the loss and then she’s right – you have to let it go. This rejection does not define you. You are much more than a sum of your accomplishments or rejections. Your art is a gift you give to those around you – sometimes people don’t know how to receive your gift. It’s ok – because others do! Don’t give up!

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