“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Edward Hopper (from Artpromotivate.com)
An eagle in flight, the newly opened bud of a spring flower, the crashing waves on a white sandy beach are sights that can momentarily take the breath away. For many artists the feeling cannot be put into words. Only paint can express the depth of emotion attached to magnificent sights in our world. But there are times when frustration can set in over the difficulty of expressing that emotion followed by feelings of failure. Why is it not happening?
Perhaps the beauty seems more than mere mortals can express. The great C.S. Lewis said, “We do not want to see merely beauty…we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Father Shane Tucker of Four Winds Anglican Mission and ArtistSoulfriend.com spoke of this quote and encouraged artists to search for those places that inspire awe and to breathe them in. Father Shane suggests getting still and thinking of when one has last seen awe.
Taking time to be in that place of awe, to breathe it in, absorb it, dwell in it then turn back to canvas and paint with fresh feelings intact can break the logjam of frustration. Getting out of the way of feelings when they are trying to express themselves may be just the ticket. Letting go of control takes the physical act of shaking out arms and hands. It takes a conscious act to let the unconscious take over. So start shaking, breathe deep and get out of the way. The logs are breaking!
Suppose your goal is to create “beautiful” art. The first thing you might set out to do is define, “beautiful.” Good luck with that! Volumes have been written about what is and isn’t beautiful. The subject was examined in a movie documentary starring Mathew Collings, titled “What is Beauty?” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a mind bogglingly in-depth article on the definition of Beauty. Even the dictionary has multiple definitions of beauty. What’s an artist to do?
The first step may be to go back to the beginning and take a look at why you create art in the first place. Was the original purpose to create something “beautiful” or something that will be enjoyed by others. There is a big difference. As the exact definition of beauty is likely near impossible to pin down, while giving pleasure to others is not. Therefore, a better goal might be to define how art gives pleasure to others and set out to pursue that direction.
Now that the goal is in mind to determine how to make pleasurable art, you take a look at what you have and discover one person finds pleasure in one style and another person prefers a different style. Uh Oh! What now?? You could just throw in the towel and give up. Or you could follow your own heart, create what you find pleasurable and let the chips fall where they may. Some of those chips just may fall on a few likeminded folks.
“I think all great innovations are built on rejections.” Louis-Ferdinand Celine, (from The Painter’s Keys)
All artists face rejection at sometime or other. It is inevitable. For many artists, myself included, our art can feel somewhat like our child. Art comes from the depths of our souls, our hearts. A piece of who we are is in each artwork. To put it out there for others to enjoy is what we create for. Each time we do, we face the possibility that others will not respond with the same love and acceptance that we feel for our art. It is a hazard of the job.
Every artist is admonished to “not take it personally.” Hearing that statement over and over does not make it so. But each rejection can become a learning experience. The majority of rejections are likely due to the simple fact that a particular artist’s work does not fit with the vision of the venue. On other occasions, the rejecter may feel it necessary to explain the rejection in terms the artist may find hurtful or discouraging. Other rejections can be deliberately demeaning. Unfortunately, it happens. And sometimes a rejecter attempts to provide constructive criticism. Daniel Grant writing for The Huffington Post states, “Part of the job of being an artist is determining which one applies, and there is not a Website as yet to help with that.”
Grant’s words can be taken to heart, as I recently found. While applying to a number of juried venue’s this summer, I encountered some success but not without the inevitable rejections, as well. Most rejections were of the variety, “We have XY applications for only X number of places, …” followed by some explanation. But one such rejection was of the hurtful type. The rejection included the scoring by each of the 5 jurors with comments. Four of the five scored me as a one (the worst) while the fifth scored me as a five (the best). What could be made of that?? Was the fifth one a genius or an idiot? Were the four a mean little clique or a group of learned critics? And no one was in the middle. There were no scores of three.
The first reaction was hurt. The four had been explicit in their criticisms. The second reaction was puzzlement. Why was number five an outlier? And why no middle ground? Either the art was terrible or great, not mediocre. That was the first glimmer of hope. No one scored mediocre! After running through all the emotions, a sober look back at each comment produced the final enlightenment. I could remain hurt or look for what was constructive in each comment. What did number five like and what did each of the four dislike. Surprisingly, I found some truth to work on.
Rejection has been written on over and over, sometimes helpfully and sometimes not. Some artists just want to stay stuck and grumble, others want to take positive action. Taking positive action requires Courage. For some encouraging ideas, Artpromotivate offers, “How Can Artists Deal With Rejection When Promoting Art?” On her website, Maria Brophy offers additional encouragement in an article titled, “The Illusion of Rejection and How to Deal with it.”
Artists can take positive action to overcome rejection or they can treat rejection as an illusion. Either way is better than wallowing in the rejection mud, unless you are a mudwrestler. In that case…nevermind, wallow all you want. For the rest it is worth remembering that Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and we all know what his paintings are going for now. Not that we are all budding Van Goghs, but you never know! Someone out there reading his/her latest rejection letter may be sitting in the studio staring at a multi-million dollar masterpiece that is awaiting discovery. No rejection letter is so muddy that a little soap and water can’t do the trick. Time to wash the mud off and move on.