Friday, July 17, 2009

Help: Rejection, what's love got to do with it? Marty Coleman

I asked several artists who exhibit regularly and participate widely to let me know how they deal with artistic rejection. See earlier posts for more background.

Beside's exhibiting widely, Marty Coleman has made his art and life quite public through his active blog (another story really quite amazing!). His work will be included in the 24 Works on Paper juried exhibition opening July 18 at IAO Gallery.

Q: How do you decide what juried shows or opportunities to enter?
A: I go by the juror, genre, award, history, cost and location
. I want to have my work seen by curators and directors that are in good institutions. If the juror fits that description I will be more inclined to enter. Whether or not I get in the show, I know that curator has seen my work and that is important since the next time he or she sees it there will be a bit of history to it.

The award, whether a show or monetary, is also taken into consideration. I have gained my first one-person show from just such a competition. A good history of the show with recognition from the media and the art world is another important element. It doesn’t always accurately reflect if it will be a worthwhile show, but it is something to take into consideration. The location is important for a number of reasons. Sales, publicity, future show opportunities and the audience are all partly dependent on where the show will be. The cost is taken into consideration after I have looked at all the other elements. Those elements will tell me if the show is worth the cost.

Q: What percentage of them would you say you’ve gotten in over your career?
A: I would say the percentage of rejections vs. acceptance is well over 50%. Closer to 75% I would say.

Q: Any anecdotal stories about rejection—yours or other artists?
A: I started part-time teaching of Drawing and Art Appreciation at the community college level straight out of graduate school. I knew it would take a while to land a full time job. I started applying to most every college level teaching job I could find.

My rejection letters started to pile up. At the same time I was doing photo collage work and decided to combine the photographs I was rejecting for my collages with the rejection letters. I started the ‘Rejection Suite’ and ended up creating a series of 37 letters (out of a few hundred) with photos collaged on top. Each letter had a collage over the body of the letter with certain words or phrases from the letter allowed to show through. A few of the phrases (and titles of the pieces) are:
“The bearer of sad tidings / whatever’
‘Have found you to be lacking / your future’
‘Obliged to eliminate’
‘Final reckonings / imply a negative’

Ironically enough, the Rejection Suite ended up being my most popular body of work back in the early 90’s, with shows, grants and much publicity coming from them. It was the artist’s version of the poet’s story of wallpapering his bathroom with his rejection letters.

Here is a link to the
‘Rejection Suite’

Q: Any other comments about this aspect of the artist life?
A: I had my first piece in a show in 1978. It was also the first show I had ever entered. I thought that meant I would get in all of them! I learned quickly that just wasn’t the case. I learned investigating all angles of the show in advance is essential to making a good decision about entering or not.

The element of rejection is insidious for me. I don’t feel emotionally or artistically rejected, I am not fearing that I am not good enough or creative enough. I am confident of my work and my ability.

But I have found that it unconsciously turns me towards doubt about entering competitions. It infiltrates my decisions without me knowing it. I have learned over many years to pretty much recognize when that is happening and combat it, but it still does happen here and there.

The key for any person starting out in competition (young or old) is to recognize that the variables that decide the results are very often not at all about your work and it’s worth. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t judge your work stringently and be honest about it’s level compared to others. But you shouldn’t assume it is because of that. It is more likely it is because the juror doesn’t like your ‘style’ or can’t see the value of your work in such a small space of time. Perhaps the juror has been asked to only have one of each subject and you happen to show something that 10 others have also tried to depict. Perhaps the show is really only local artists but that isn’t really announced and so you aren’t likely to get picked. There are many reasons beyond your artwork’s intrinsic worth in the overall art world. Don’t assume otherwise.