This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world. Jack authored seven Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
The single most powerful reason artists fail is FEAR of rejection. It’s impossible to be an artist and not experience rejection.
When I started writing I knew I would face multiple rejections. I remember reading the story of crime novelist John Creasey. John set a record of 742 successive rejection slips in a row before he was ever published. John received 500 more rejections than Stephen King before he was published. But once John’s first book was published, he wasted no time exploding on the market. In the following forty years, John wrote 562 full-length books, published his work under 28 different pseudonyms and sold over seventy million copies. He wrote the famous “Gideon” series. John Ford’s 1955 movie Gideon’s Day was based on John Creasey’s novel by the same name. Creasey also wrote plays, short stories, juvenile books and romantic novels under the name of a woman. Much of the author's work is now out of print but his influence has been acknowledged by several of the leading English mystery writers. What if John had given up at rejection slip number 741?
Whiteism: Rejection can be painful, but never fatal.
As a teenager whose shyness caused her to be unpopular, a young girl assumed that she was ugly. At 5’11” and 128 pounds she was a tall, gangly loner. While in a Dusseldorf Club, she was discovered by a talent scout. Just a few weeks later, she appeared in Elle Magazine and in a brief time began modeling for Chanel. Her face has graced the covers of more magazines than any other supermodel in the world. She became a top fashion model, hailed by many as the most beautiful woman to ever live. All those who had ignored her as a teen now boast that they went to school with Claudia Schiffer! Sometimes it’s not that we are being rejected, it is just no one sees us. A large amount of rejection is in our minds.
Rejected as too awkward and clumsy to be a ball boy in a Davis Cup tennis match, Stan Smith went on to become the officially ranked number one tennis player in the world. What if Stan had given up tennis because they wouldn’t let him be a ball boy? Rejection can make us rise to a higher level. We want to prove our critics wrong.
At his first audition the great Fred Astaire was scoffed at for being skinny and balding. He said the rejection hurt but not enough to give up dancing.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s music teacher declared him ‘hopeless’ at composing. Today we know him primarily as a composer but he was a celebrated pianist and accomplished violinist, first. Born in Bonn, Germany his family moved to Vienna, Austria in his early twenties so he could study with Joseph Hayden. His early compositions were rejected. Hayden recommended that his student build a reputation as a virtuoso pianist, telling the young genius he had no talent to compose. In his late twenties Ludwig began to gradually lose his hearing, yet he continued to produce notable work throughout his life. Even when his deafness was almost total he was writing his best music. Beethoven was one of the first composers who worked as a freelance artist. He arranged subscription concerts, sold his compositions to publishers and gained financial support from a number of wealthy patrons, rather than being permanently employed by the church or by an aristocratic court.
Max Raffler was born in 1902 in the village of Greifenberg, Bavaria. His parents were farmers but his father also served as mayor of the village from 1911 to 1930. Max was considered mentally challenged but that didn’t prevent him from loving to paint. When his parents died, his older sisters took over the farm. The sisters wouldn’t allow him to pursue formal art training. Over the years, as his paintings piled high, his sisters burned them to make room for more. His subjects were often images of the rural countryside or religious paintings that were encouraged by a local priest and shown in the church. Other images included self-portraits and paintings of cats, as well as illustrations of children’s stories. Finally, when he became an old man, his artistic ability was recognized. His sisters had destroyed paintings that would have sold for millions of dollars. He died in 1988. Today, his work is still shown widely in published books and he remains one of Germany’s most well-known naïve or primitive painters. What if he had stopped when his sisters started burning his work? What if he had become so depressed he had to be institutionalized? Rejection can make or break an artist.
It was the dead of night as a shadowy figure slunk down a back street. He slipped away from his friends to mail his manuscript, hiding his secret petrified they might find out and ridicule him. The manuscript was rejected. More rejections pierced him before he found a monthly installment for his writings. These episodes would later be published into books. He won the hearts of millions with his great classics. But first he had to stare down rejection. At the age of 12, he was deemed old enough to work ten hours a day in Warren's boot-blacking factory located near Charring Cross railway station. His job was pasting labels on the jars of thick shoe polish. With this money he helped support his family since his father was incarcerated in debtor’s prison.
Then their financial situation improved partly due to money inherited from his father's family. But his mother did not immediately remove him from the boot-blacking factory. He never forgave her for this. A mature Charles Dickens wrote in David Copperfield, "I had no advice, no counsel, no encouragement, no consolation, no assistance and no true support of any kind.”
Dickens's episodic writing style was his exposure to the opinions of his readers in Oliver Twist. The monthly novel first appeared in short stories where he could witness the public’s reaction. He changed the story to please his audience. His fear of rejection was evident in his willingness to comply with the whims of his readers.
All too many artists today are set in stone. They will not change to satisfy the art buying public. They learn nothing from rejection. Don’t you be one of those who can’t change to making art that connects.
Did you know that when the Wright brothers sent out invitations to see them fly their heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk, NC only five people showed up and two of those were curious farmers? One of the most important events in humanity and certainly in the history of transportation couldn’t gain enough respect to garner any attention. The news media rejected them as kooks. What if they had looked at the crowd, folded their wings and gone home? We might be dependent on ships instead of flying around the world.
Michael Dell is the son of a Houston orthodontist and attended Memorial High School. His government teacher told him, “You will never go anywhere in life.” After the government teacher retired in 2002, Dell outfitted the entire school with new computers. The retired teacher didn’t attend the presentation ceremony. At the age of 15, Dell broke down a brand new Apple II and rebuilt it, just to see if he could. While attending the Kozmetzky Business School at the University of Texas he started making computers in his room at Dobie Center so he would have some spending money. He called his dorm room company PC’s Limited. His parents could have easily afforded to give him a cash allowance but they wanted him to realize the importance of a dollar earned.
Dr. George Kozmetzky gave the class a project to invent a company and build a business model. This paper would count for one third of their grade. It occurred to Dell that his paper could also be his personal business plan for marketing computers.
So Michael chose his own little company PC’s Limited as his plan. Kozmetzky ridiculed 19-year-old Dell and wouldn’t accept the paper. Along with the humiliating rebuke Dr. Kozmetzky instructed Michael not to return to class until he came up with something more realistic. Young Dell dropped out of college to build Dell Computers. His grandparents invested in his idea and the rest is history. He is a success today because he didn’t let his teacher’s rejection kill his ambition. There are times we have to prove people in power wrong. Many of you reading this piece have faced art professor rejection. Remember, the first show I did two women called my art junk. Many times others cannot see our determination or vision.
I recently heard from an oil painter. He lamented, “I went to nine galleries today and they all rejected me. They were nice and said they liked my work but that I was not right for their gallery.” I gave him a call.
He was as a low as a coon dog that just got caught chasing rabbits. “Jack, I don’t know what to do. They seemed to like my work but said my art didn’t fit their gallery requirements.”
“What kind of art do they show?” I asked still puzzled why so many turned him down.
“Mostly abstract, very modern, with some cutting edge pieces.” He answered in a whisper as if he was ashamed to speak. Rejection can paralyze an artist if you allow it.
I resorted with some Texas rapier wit and got both of us laughing. I knew we could make no progress with him smothering in the fear of rejection. When I stopped coughing from laughter I asked another question, “What kind of art do you make?”
“Traditional.” His answer was quick and to the point.
“Did you see any work similar to yours in any of the nine galleries?”
“Now that you mention it, I can’t think of any. In fact I know there was nothing even similar to mine.”
“Charlie,’ I said, “They didn’t reject you or your art. You were a round plug trying to fit in a square hole. Go find a gallery that sells traditional art in the same genre and style you work in. If you are going to get turned down make sure you are dealing with a gallery that can say yes. An abstract gallery can’t say yes even if they love your work. You don’t fit their walls. ” Do you see sparrows roosting with pigeons? We don’t see flocks of hummingbirds flying south with a gaggle of geese or a parliament of swans. There’s no covey of quails nesting with a murder of crows. It’s not rejection unless you are in a gallery carrying work similar to yours. Put geese with geese, eagles with eagles and ducks with ducks. Find your kind of art and eliminate rejections.”
Country western mega star George Strait was told by several music producers that old honky-tonk music was long gone. People no longer listened to that out-dated music. That was not what George wanted to hear. He cut his teeth on the pure country of Hank Williams, George Jones and Bob Wills. Young George was majoring in ranch management at Southwest Texas State and played local gigs on the weekends. The well dried up, he split up his band and was in the process of selling his equipment when he got a call from a label that had previously rejected him because he was TOO COUNTRY. At first, he told them he was not interested. One of his band members insisted they give it one last effort so he got his group of musicians together and off they went. The label loved his songs and his first album Go Gold did just that. No matter how great you turn out to be there are a lot of rejections along the way.
No one starts at the top. Robert Duvall played Bo in To Kill a Mockingbird, his first movie. His character didn’t say a word.
Clint Black played for nine years in and around Houston barely able to make his guitar payments. He struggled to keep from getting his instrument repossessed. He didn’t even have the money for a demo record. If you toss in the towel when you hear NO then you don’t belong in this business.
Many years ago after spending two hours visiting the Country Store Art Gallery, I came to the conclusion I could become an artist. I went home and announced to my wife, “I’m going to paint paintings for our living!” Talk about rejection - she began to cry. I endured rejections on top of rejections until I found a way to make art that connected with people. I reached my goals because I refused to accept rejection. I forgot them the moment they came up. You can do the same. Let rejections roll of your back like a duck in water, each one brings you just that much closer to success.