The artist’s life is full of rejection and criticism. Think of the roadblocks you encounter every day.
- The gallery doesn’t want your work.
- You didn’t get accepted into a show
- That couple praised your recent piece, but didn’t buy it.
- The people who enter your art festival tent keep talking about how they could make something exactly like your work.
- The residency you want so badly won’t consider your application.
- You aren't happy with the number of likes on your latest post.
Watch The Video
Watch the IGTV video from June 17, 2021 or keep reading for more. (Don't miss the comments—they're super rich.)
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You Persevere, Though It's Not Easy
You might have a bad bout of imposter syndrome and even begin to wonder what the point of all this is.
It’s amazing that any artist thrives at all. It’s a testament to your resilience that you persevere despite the roadblocks you encounter.
You do it because you have an unwavering commitment in the work you do. You can’t imagine doing anything else.
Still, because you are human, the criticism and rejection hurt.
The negative voices are louder than any chorus of praise you might receive. The default for so many of us is to dwell on the negative comments and rejections and ignore all of the nice things that people say about our work.
Do this instead: Pump up the volume on the positive messages that are all around you.
Make a Confidence Stash
I won’t pretend that I experience the same kind of rejection as you, but I receive my share. Something I’ve done for years might help you get through the tough times.
I keep a “Loved” File, and I suggest you do the same. Cynthia Morris recommended that I start this warm-and-fuzzy file about a decade ago. Over the years, my file has grown to four stuffed folders and, wanting to save on paper, an electronic version in Notion.
In the IGTV video above, I call it a Confidence Stash. In the comments below, others have embraced the names Emergency Cheer, Atta Girl File, and Encouragement Folder.
The file, in whatever format you choose and whatever you cal it, is a reminder that you are loved. That you are respected. That you are valued. Here are some examples of what you'll store.
- Keep that email from a fan. Highlight your favorite sentence.
- Take a screen capture of the “I love it!” comments after you posted your artwork on social media or your blog.
- Write down the nice things people say to you at your opening. Don’t dismiss them! Don’t wonder why they didn’t buy if they like it so much. Appreciate the moment. Bask in the adulation.
- Treasure the kind words from students who benefit from your knowledge and generosity of spirit.
- There’s no need to stop with your art business. Relish the appreciation of friends, neighbors, and coworkers.
Whenever you question if you should be an artist, pull out your file and be assured that you do have impact and you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.
This post was originally published on February 9, 2017, and has been updated with the very useful comments intact.
36 thoughts on “Dwell In the Love Not On the Rejection”
Keep a journal of all the wonderful things someone tells you so that on the low days you can read them…
Great post, Alyson!
I keep a gratitude notebook. I record things I am deeply grateful for, which often includes lovely feedback. It always raises a smile to browse through when I am having a bad day.
Yes! A must, Jane.
The rejection gets easier with time too. I barely look at the “we recieved hundreds of entries and we regret to inform you” notes anymore- straight to the trash and on with the next thing!
It sure does, Molly. Until it’s personal.
That does hurt when that happens, but personal taste comes into play often with art. “You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself”, as the garden party song put it so well.
One of my students gave me a gift of a handmade book. It is small, but beautiful. In it she wrote all the ‘Ruthisms’ that she had collected over a year of classes. It was filled with words of encouragement and wisdom that I had passed on to her and the rest of the class. I treasure it, and take it out when I feel I haven’t done my best to reach all my students. At least I know I really reached one!
Wow! That is so special. What a great idea, Ruth. Sounds like you are loved as a teacher.
This may not fully resonate with others commenting on this post, but something I heard during a speech recently stuck in my mind. Every morning (could be in the evening), she wrote 3 things she wished she had done differently, 3 things she had done well, and 3 things she was grateful for. I have a blank book I bought from DJ Pettitt several years ago and I think it’s going to come off the shelf and be put to good use as my daily reflection. Yea, Alyson, for the reminder to celebrate the love.
Sounds like a great plan, Marrianna.
Thank you, Alyson, for this very timely post. I have been struggling for a long time to get back to my art after many life struggles and art rejections. I’m going to put your suggestions into action.
So sorry to hear of your struggles, Karen. I do hope this helps.
Thank you for this wonderful post! I do keep an electronic file like this, but I never look in it! And I have trouble remembering praise and love, especially in the hard times. But your post and people’s comments have inspired me to get serious about accepting love. I think I will print out the contents of my file and make a book out of it. Physical objects are easier to remember to look at than digital ones. I’ll make it with a thick spine and write something useful on the spine (maybe “You Are Loved”?), so that even if I don’t look through the book that often, I’ll read the title subliminally every day.
Great idea, Keiko! I would soooooo love to see that when you make it. Pleeeeeez?
This is so important Alyson. Even when artists accept the praise we often hold onto the rejection too. And we focus on the rejection no matter how much praise we get. Instead I have had to learn to let the rejection go and keep the good stuff close. Without the love there is no energy to create.
How do you do it, Malcolm?
Thanks Alyson! I am getting back to my daily gratitudes in my little moleskine. this post helps!
Over the years I’ve collected the thank you cards that I’ve received from my students. From time to time I revisit those cards. They always bring a smile to my lips and warm my heart.
I have an encouragement folder full of wonderful emails I have received over the years. If I ever need encouragement, I can go there.
And I don’t throw away the rejection notices. I have kept them all for years. I have two large notebooks with acceptance and rejection letters all mixed together in chronological order. It is interesting to visit occasionally. You can even look and see that, wow, after my 4th attempt at that exhibit, I finally got in. Always good to have a record.
Connie: Interesting! They co-mingle. 🙂
When I get advertising material together for the workshop I teach is when I am reminded of the impact I have on other women. I read over their comments from the evaluation sheets I hand out. I always use those comments in my advertising.
Nice! You have permission, Jan? Or you use them anonymously?
I have kept a love file like that for years, starting with my career as a physical therapist and now I have one for my art business.
At exhibit receptions I have a clip board with a form on it to collect email addresses from attendees. In addition to spaces to collect their contact info, I also include spaces to ask what is their favorite art work in my exhibit and how it made them feel. It is fun to go back and look at what people have to say. Warm fuzzies!
Nice, Mary! I can see why people love to share their favs.
I put notes or pictures up wherever I will see them often to convince myself otherwise when I start getting a bad case of the “Who Do You Think You Ares”. When the notes start to look junky they get stashed in a file folder. Or, in the case of such things as the “money rock”, feathers and glass beads, all gifts from students, I let them be a warm spot in the clutter until eventually they get stashed in a small box. I come upon these stashes at odd times and always feel a lift afterward. The most recent stash I came across was an envelope I had marked, “emergency cheer”. It had a “toy” my then 3 year old daughter made for me from a scrap of cardboard and paper and a lot of masking tape. I had had a horrible day and she thought I might need something to amuse me. It’s a drawing of a smiling bird, wings outspread, taped above a hole in the cardboard into which I am to put my finger in order to wiggle the bird up and down. It’s hilarious! I think, who cares about that man who scoffed when I said that being an artist IS a real job- here’s a piece of art that proves how incredibly unique and important our job is. Art reaches in where words fall short. Even a child can see that!
Dona: What a great story! I love “Emergency cheer”. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you Alyson for this idea. When I worked in corporate, I maintained an “atta girl” file which lifted me on bad days. I never thought to do this for my art. Brilliant! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Love the name “atta girl.” Yep, time to do it for your art.
I started selling my art at our local farmers market this summer, and occasionally I would write down the lovely things people said about my work. I’m taking from your post I should write it all down and compile it into a file as a hedge against the inevitable negativity we all experience!
Thank you for this great suggestion.
Barb: Good work on doing that. You probably get loads of comments, from which you can choose the juiciest to keep.
In the past few years I’ve had the great good fortune to meet wonderful
artists and show curators at home and internationally. I now have a
circle of people who are kind and appreciate my work. They do spread
the love, and I feel it’s part of my mission on the planet to do the same.
I also know the value of my work — the paintings I exhibit in larger
shows, because I like to travel and be there, and I can see what’s happening
in the wider world. People don’t usually say mean things at art shows,
and rarely on line. If I need to see a record of the love I receive from
fellow artists, I can scroll back through my blog and it is very heartening.
Thank you for your wonderful post, and Happy Valentine’s Day! <3 You
mean a great deal to me Alyson.
Nice! Isn’t it wonderful to be part of such a supportive community, Barbara? I know I feel that way about your being here.
All over the inside of my studio door, I have taped a selection of my exhibition posters and photos of work that has been sold up through the years…with small red dots on all of them, to remind me that work was done, praised and sold, and that I most likely will repeat this cycle again and again. It gives me encouragement and hope, and it’s highly visible all the time….
I hadn’t considered keeping a notebook of good things people say about my work at shows or about my teaching. What a great idea! We too often let the negatives & rejections stick. Why not continue to relish and enjoy the positives??!! I felt funny about keeping cards etc. with positive comments in them. Now I h
ave a special place for them!!
I love the Red Dot piece!!
Funny, I always say I don’t really like red unless it is next to one of my art pieces!