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Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Art of Accepting a Rejection Letter


A few months ago, I'd posted about my submission of "Phoenix Paradigm" to the Saul Bell Design Award, against my instinct to hide it. Why would I want to hide it? Because I'm a coward. It's hard enough submitting work, when no one is watching, but to do it in front of anyone who happens to be walking by? It's a bit like raking my nails across a chalk board while tap dancing barefoot on push pins. At least if no one knew, I could pretend like I'd never submitted if things didn't go my way. This time around, I wanted to be honest about what the process really is like, not just submission, but the looming possibility of the rejection letter (cue ominous music.)

Every time I apply to a show, or enter a design competition, it's difficult. Not making the piece, that's a delight, the promise of a deadline pushes me a little further into my studio, and expands my concept of what's possible. That aside, there's this fear that somehow, your work won't measure up. If you do get the"rejection" letter, it means you just didn't do enough, or you're somehow doing something "wrong." I've certainly been on that downward spiral in the past, and I was afraid I might be buying a ticket for that ride again by submitting to such a prestigious competition.

This is the funny part. I did get a, very polite, and encouraging rejection letter from Saul Bell. This sage advice immediately came to mind "Happiness is the first time you get hit in the face." Huh? It's true, the fear of getting hit is way worse than getting hit, and after that first time, you realize it's not all you made it out to be. This isn't the first time I've gotten a letter like this, but this is the first time for me to do it in front of an audience. I really thought I'd beat myself up for not going the extra mile, or for not trying a little harder, or maybe if I'd just made something altogether different.

While it's good to question where we are as artists/musicians/equine enthusiast/human beings, getting caught up in the negative cycle of self denigration does us no good at all. We have very little, probably more like no control at all, over what happens around us/to us, we can only choose how we respond. I can beat myself up, stomp, cry, moan and complain, all of which I'm really good at, but ultimately how I choose to react only effects me, and does nothing to effect an already set outcome. So I didn't get on the crazy train and, strangely enough, this letter doesn't even effect how I feel about my work. I'm starting to think, that just maybe, it's because I'm already creating in a way that's authentic to me. Sure I was disappointed, but it didn't change how I felt about the piece at all, it brought it into focus.

I've been enormously blessed this year. My work has received and incredible amount of positive attention, I have the encouragement and support of countless friends and family all of whom I am tremendously grateful for. It's weird thinking, let alone admitting this, but I even feel fortunate to have received that "rejection" letter. It became the litmus test for where I really am as an artist, and I'm in a surprisingly good place. I love what I make/I make what I love. I sincerely hope every artist finds the place inside themselves where nothing else can diminish that love affair. This doesn't mean I stop submitting, or applying, or evolving, it just means this potential static doesn't cloud my expression of the moment or the process of creation.

So, if you've applied to a show, if you've submitted to a competition, if you've faced a design challenge, I commend you. If you didn't get in, get accepted, or place, don't let it bring you down, just continue to grow and evolve. Winning accolades may help elevate our visibility amongst our peers, but it isn't why we're in the studio.

And as my much wiser, much better half graciously quoted to me from Rick Nelson: "It's all right now, I learned my lesson well, you see, you can't please everyone, but you got to please yourself."