Most artists have been told they should enter lots of juried shows and competitions to build up their resumes while building their art career. Since I have never, ever been asked to show my resume before selling a painting, or being accepted into a gallery, I have some disagreement with this idea. But that's a topic for another post. Whether or not you think you need to enter shows, or just want to, it's' never fun when you don't win anything. What's even worse is when you don't get into a show at all. You get that dreaded "sorry, your work was not accepted in..." letter. To add insult to injury, you later attend the show and see artworks that were accepted that make you scratch your head. Sometimes it's even worse and you are literally shocked. You're thinking, "OMG .... THAT amateurish piece of junk got into the show while mine was rejected?"
Usually if you go complain to someone about how some piece of junk art got accepted and yours didn't, you get that look ... that look that the person you're telling thinks you just have an ego problem and you are bitter and jealous. Of course, they didn't actually see the junk that got in so they don't really know. Either that or they're thinking art is subjective, so all art is good in some way, and you just can't accept that some people may like that "crappy" art better than yours. I beg to differ. I know a stylized piece of art from a beginner's finger painting. (Read my post on Why Can't I Say Some Art Is Bad? for my opinion on that). My point is, you usually get no sympathy from anyone. They think the jurors surely picked the best art and you're just being a baby about it because your art was not considered the best. You know that feeling.
But you know you're not just jealous. You're sometimes shocked by what was selected and what was rejected in an art show you didn't even enter. You're sometimes surprised that what you think
is a wonderful piece of art by another artist is sitting in the rejection
room while another painting was accepted that looks like a dog wiped its
bum across the carpet. Your personal art aside, you're baffled.
Regardless of what others think of your rejection, or the reason for the rejection, getting rejected from an art show sucks. I'm writing this post because there's one very important thing I've learned about being rejected from art shows: Don't take it personally.
The first thing we artists tend to do when we get rejected from a show is think that our art was not good enough. Our art sucks. We failed. Maybe we really aren't as good as we think we are and should just throw in the towel.
I'm here to say ... Stop! It's not about you. You weren't necessarily rejected because you're art sucked.
One thing I've learned over the past few years is this is not about my art. It not even about the best art. We are led to believe that jurors are objective, they have some totally objective rule book they use to select art, so only the actual best art gets in a show. We believe art shows are all about selecting the best art and that's it.
I'm here to say I don't think that's true.
I should now make my disclaimer. I have no inside knowledge whatsoever into how juried shows work. But I have talked with a several artists who have far more experience with them than I do. Whether they have the actual facts or not, I don't know. But what they say about how juried shows work makes a lot more sense to me than thinking jurors actually prefer crap art over good art sometimes. Here's what I've learned. The "rule book" for selecting art is not just to select the best art. Shows are a business. So sometimes it's about:
1. What attracts visitors. Art shows want to attract the most visitors possible, especially if visitors have to pay to get in. Variety matters. If a hundred artists submit landscapes and 10 artists submit florals, the jurors may reject 10 beautiful landscapes in order to include 10 crappy florals so they don't have all landscapes. They want landscapes and florals to make sure the show has variety to attract all sorts of visitors.
2. What sells. Let's face it. Most of these shows are not out there for the sole purpose of helping artists get exposure. They're out there to make money. They want art that sells. You may have the most beautifully rendered painting of a dugong the world has ever seen. But there really isn't much of a market for dugong paintings. If wolves are the "hot" item then the juror may very well select a poorly crafted wolf painting over your excellently painted dugong painting simply because they know the wolf painting is more likely to sell.
3. Personal preference. We'd like to think jurors are objective. And I'm sure many try their best to be objective. But, they are human, and their opinions and tastes are going to influence their choices no matter what. People are usually surprised when I tell them I barely scraped by with a 'C' grade in one of my college art classes. The reason? My teacher did not believe realism was art. His opinion was, if you want it to look realistic just go take a photo. So I got a poor grade for making my paintings and drawings too realistic. It didn't matter to my teacher whether I did a good job or not. He just really believed my renderings were not "art" in the true sense of the term. I was a human photo-copy machine in his opinion. No style. No creativity. I sucked to him. OK, so here is this college professor, supposedly trying to teach art objectively, and could not separate his personal opinions from his judgment of my craftsmanship. So it is with jurors. Try as they might, if they love colorful abstracts and you submit a monochrome realism, they won't be able to entirely detach their personal dislike for monochrome realism. They are going to favor the colorful abstract.
4. Space. This is one I was actually surprised to learn about. But the truth of the matter is, sometimes it's just about space.The prospectus may say they accept paintings up to 5'x6', and you submit work that's 3'x4', but it gets rejected simply because it's too big. Technically it's within the legal limits. But the fact of the matter is they have a limited amount of space to hang artwork. They decided they want to hang 200 pieces of artwork and if they accept 3'x4' paintings then they'll only have room for 150 paintings. So they select some lesser quality 9"x12" paintings over yours so they can squeeze more paintings into the space available.
Really, it could be that simple. Your art is wonderful. They love it. But they simply don't have room for it. They don't tell you this though. I have never seen a show actually tell artists why their art was rejected. It would be nice if they did. But I think they don't because they don't want to tell anyone it's not always about picking the best art. That's what everyone believes, that art shows exhibit only the best art submitted. But it's an illusion. They don't want to admit it's sometimes about stupid stuff, like space. So I'm here to tell you that. Sometimes it is just about stupid stuff. Sometimes it's about wall space, or money, not about the quality of your art. So I hope after you read this you'll feel a little better next time you get that rejection letter.