FineArtViews –

Handling Rejection

by Lori Woodward

Today’s Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is also a contributing editor for American Artist’s Watercolor and Workshop magazines and she writes “The Artist’s Life” blog on American Artists’ Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Find out how you can be a guest author.

For an artist, there’s no escaping the cold, hard fact of rejection. It’s part and parcel of the profession. Perseverance is a quality that we artists must develop in order to progress. Yes, it always feels bad, but the key is to not let rejection stop you from moving forward.

Recently, I was talking to a friend who mentioned that the author of Harry Potter books submitted her scripts 17 times before she found a publisher. The Beatles were repeatedly rejected by American record companies; and even my friend and mentor, Richard Schmid – often considered the greatest living master painter – had his book “Alla Prima” rejected by all of the art book publishers he submitted to (which, incidentally, turned out in his favor because he made a lot more money by publishing it himself).

So next time you receive a rejection – not getting into a show, having to go to a gallery and pick up your work because it’s not selling, receiving a hugely negative critique for an artwork that you thought was one of your best — keep in mind that everyone who ventures into the professional art world gets rejected from time to time.

We all start out as beginners

At the age of 35, after having worked for a computer company for ten years, I decided to get back into my art. Although I had a degree in fine art (where I learned nothing terribly useful), when I started taking watercolor classes in 1991, I was rusty and it took considerable effort to regain any expertise technically. One thing I could count on was that I was able to draw, but my ability with paint and mixing color – well, those areas needed much improvement.

Today, when I teach workshops, I show students paintings that I did back in 1991 and 92. The colors were muddy and the result unattractive. My reason for bringing them to workshops – is so the students can see how much I’ve improved and how really bad my paintings were at the time – which were the best watercolors I could do. But I did hang in there and today I have an instructional column in Watercolor Magazine. So, I guess you can say I persevered.

Pursue Excellence

One of the ways that I seek to improve my work is to compare my paintings to those of the masters, both past and present. I ask myself, what do their paintings display that mine don’t? At one point, I realized that most of the paintings I see in magazine articles use color in a way that I did not. They repeat color throughout their composition and their lights and darks contain a variety of colors that vibrate – while maintaining the correct value. Without getting into all of the artistic principles, I’ll just say that I was painting with only local color and once I made this change to a variety of bits of color in each value mass, my painting ability took a giant leap. It became clear to me the difference between average and advanced painting principles.

Now, I’m not saying that you all need to paint like me. I think you know me better than that, but what I am saying is that it’s our responsibility as artists to study the principles of art and practice applying them (for whatever style we paint in) so that we become masterful as well. If anyone thinks that making it in the art world is not a competitive feat, think again. It has been my experience that competition for recognition and sales is everywhere. How do I get past this fact? Pursue Excellence and develop my own story and style.

All of the above is to illustrate that rejection is going to come. When it does, sometimes it’s not because your work is bad, it’s just the nature of the profession – because judges have their own tastes. Other times, it’s because the judges can see evidence of the artist’s lack of understanding of the finer principles of good composition or handling of the medium or color. When it is the second case, the cure is to get that understanding and apply it to your work. Sometimes this takes a few years, and “miles of canvas” as they say. That’s why living masters get the big bucks. If it were easy, everyone could do it and it would be worth nothing.

But getting back to the rejection issue… early in your career, expect rejection, but keep improving and enter competitions and put your work out there for sale. You don’t need to be the most well known or even best artist in the country to make a great living with your work. Over the years, your work will naturally improve as you learn new principles and study with great mentors. The instances of rejection will come less often and there might even come a time when you forget that you ever experienced rejection.

In the next blog, I’ll explain about how I dealt with rejection in my art career. I think some of you might be surprised at how often I had to deal with the fact of rejection during my first 10 years of selling art.


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Donald Kolberg graduated with a Fine Arts Degree from California State University, Los Angeles. He taught at the Los Angeles School of Art and co-founded Art Core, an organization dedicated to the open dialogue and display of the work of emerging artists. He continued his Master studies at Otis Art Institute. While at Otis Art Institute his teacher and main influence was internationally recognized painter Arnold Mesches. In Artcore he worked under the guidance of Lydia Takashita. With their teaching Donald learned the value of depth, texture and form in images and surface. He incorporated this into his concept of Life Forms, the portrayal of the human figure as a landscape of life and a celebration of form through Sculpture and Painting.

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