Friday, January 27, 2017

Rejection and New Year's Resolutions

The New Year always brings New Year's resolutions, not matter how resolved I am not to make any.

This year I've rejoined the American Academy of Equine Art (AAEA), after many years of being one of those full members who let their dues lapse because the dues were too high ($350/year) for the benefits received. The juried shows were uninspiring and the venues were often the same dreary facilities (with poor lighting and limited access) as previous years. They went through some difficult times with their leadership, and the Academy lost its way as a vehicle for attracting new and/or established artists. They've recently appointed a new president, Booth Malone, who is as talented and professional an artist as you'll ever find. Under his stewardship, I'm sure the AAEA will regain its former glory and even surpass it.

The main mission of the AAEA is to teach, and through the years they've offered many outstanding workshops by some of America's best equestrian artists. That, combined with the juried shows, is what makes the AAEA a great teaching organization. Aspiring artists can learn a great deal by going through the process of having their work juried by established artists in the field, and attending workshops to improve their craft. It might seem like a trial by fire, but that's a process artists have to go through on their journey to become better painters. Think of Munnings (and every artist before and after him) who submitted their work to the Royal Academy each year. Must have been a harrowing experience to wait to see if you got into that year's show.

Many years ago, I was accepted to a juried show of the Pastel Society of America (PSA). It was when they juried the entries physically, i.e., you took the piece there and left it there to be judged. It was a portrait I had done of some young black fellow named Robert. I forget where I did it or who Robert was, but it was an excellent portrait. Encouraged by my past success, I tried to enter four or five PSA shows after that, always got rejected, became disheartened and stopped submitting entries. My New Year's resolution for 2017 is to apply for membership to the PSA, as well as the Society of Animal Artists. Might as well. Don't ask, don't get, right?

My point is, rejection is hard to take no matter where you are in your career. What you do with it makes all the difference. You can shrug it off and look for other shows to enter, you can shrivel up and never do another work of art, or something in between. There's always something to be learned from entering juried shows, and how you cope with rejection provides an opportunity to grow. It can be tricky because the curators don't often give you a reason why a work was rejected. I'm always looking for answers; a detailed laundry list of why my painting didn't get accepted. That's never forthcoming! Sometimes, if you have a personal relationship with a gallery or museum, you might be lucky enough to get some sort of blanket response, which is supposed to assuage your feelings of inadequacy. They don't have the time or inclination to tell you why you didn't get in. Of course, they don't usually tell you why your painting's been accepted either. You just assume it's because they recognize great art when they see it. I certainly never question a judge when my work gets in, do you? I remember last summer I entered a show on Long Island, Animals In Art or something. I was so sure I'd win first prize, I was already planning on how to spend the prize money. The judge seemed to like pictures with my painting style, and I had some lovely new works to show. Imagine my shock when I got the rejection notice! I never got a reason why my work didn't get in except for the usual, "Due to the large number of entries, blah, blah, blah." I used to scour the works that got in whenever I got a rejection notice, looking for clues or answers as to why they got in and I didn't. It was very frustrating. "THAT got it and mine didn't?!" It just seems like an exercise in futility now. The only way one can possibly know why something got in or not, is to be inside the judge's head, which is impossible.

One should never paint to please any judge or enter any show. This seems self-evident, but as a professional artist, I have lost sight of that. I seem to paint only what I think will sell these days. I've lost the ability to separate "painting to paint" from painting to sell. (I wonder if Munnings, et al, painted pictures with the intention of entering them in the Royal Academy show.) I'm trying to find my way back to the days when I was a fresh young art student at the Art Students League and all that mattered was painting and talking about creating art. I hope I can find my way back there. The first step is to keep painting. The second step is to repeat step one, etc., etc.

I hope this will inspire you to get into the studio today. I'm heading there now. I'm working on a painting of leaves on the water. It's very relaxing and fun to do. That's just what I need right now. No commissions, no deadlines. Just an abstract painting with no anatomy to fret over. Five colors - the Anders Zorn palette, white, ultramarine blue, Cadmium red light, yellow ochre and burnt umber. Amazing how many colors you can get with just those five colors. Keeping it simple and fun!

The current work in progress. As I look at it, the leaves begin to resemble gold fish.
For more information on joining the American Academy of Equine Art, please go to their website:


  1. Thank you for this very timely post! It really hit home for me. I've had some art downers, and my self confidence is shattered. I have a panic attack even thinking about going into the studio. I haven't finished a painting in 3 years. There are so many fabulous YOUNG equine artists posting their work on Facebook that I despair of ever being that good. Or even as good as I once was. Should I even bother at my advanced age?

    I stayed with the AAEA through the bad times but have seen the benefits for juried members cut back and am wondering now what lies ahead and will it be worth it to stick around? I've only gotten vague answers to my questions from Booth.

    Well, that is neither here nor there. YOU can't help me; I can only help myself. But, again, your post struck a chord within, and I will endeavor to push past my own self rejections. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Karen,
    Thank you for your very honest and heartfelt comment.
    Rejection and self esteem are intertwined, and not being accepted to a show can strike a severe blow to your self-confidence. Whenever I've been rejected, I find that looking at the entries that got accepted don't help me to process the hurt feelings and bruised ego. I find myself saying, "THAT got in and mine didn't?! That judge must be blind!" I've learned to not compare myself to others, because that's an exercise in futility. There're always going to be artists who are better than I, and artists who are not as good. And art being such a subjective thing (personal), one can never make sense of a jury's decision. It's not like a race, where the winner is determined by who crosses the finish line first.
    Comparing yourself to others is a form of torture if you're suffering from low self esteem or feelings of inadequacy from being criticized or rejected. I felt that the AAEA was often too severe in it's critiques of young artists' work, and worried about what effect it might have on them.
    So my advice to you is simple. Go into your studio and set a blank canvas on your easel. Set out your palette. Now just sit down at the easel. Look through photos or read a book or just stare out the window. Think. Don't think about the laundry or what you're making for dinner. Dedicate the next hour to thinking about a painting you want to do. After an hour, if you haven't started to work, put everything away and come back tomorrow. Repeat this process until you start painting. If you start and get stuck and don't know what to do next, just set it on the easel and study it. After a while you'll see things that you want to change or fix, and pretty soon, you'll be back to work. It works every time for me. I think it just might work for you too! Good luck!