Handling Rejection When Creating Art


Creation is Art

What you create transforms into what is called art. Replicas are not art. Anyone can mass produce paintings. Look at all of the replicas of the Vincent van Gogh paintings. Theo, Vincent’s brother, also was trained in sketching and painting. We don’t see his work in museums, we see his brother’s work because Vincent went against the grain. He challenged the norms of the art world at the time to go beyond Impressionism to create art based on colors and true meaning.

Vincent wrote many letters to his brother Theo throughout the years, as the brothers were very close both personally and financially. Vincent depended on Theo for financial support while Theo worked as an art dealer at Goupil in Paris, France. Here is a quote from one of the many letters that Vincent wrote to his dear brother:

“In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.”

Art is a human connection. Always. The process is meaningful and is hoping to change something for the better. As artists, we make change for a living. We hope for something to work, for something to be successful for others, empower others lives.

Art is not limited to painting. You can be a great artist as an equestrian, as a scientist, as an engineer, or more. As long as at the core is making connections that are meaningful, then it’s art. Vincent strived to make connection with others through his art, to connect to a meaning beyond reality and to express something’s true essence through color.

Don’t Take Rejection Personally

The one thing that Vincent did wrong is take rejection personally. Vincent struggled his whole life for acceptance, for connection. He kept fighting with his art by trying to repeat art styles and types of paintings that were done before: Impressionism and the very safe work of landscaping. Theo even encouraged Vincent to paint in the Impressionist style because it sold well.

At the same time, Vincent was working on his own original work, which was mocked by the public, which he took as personal rejection. Sadly, towards the end of his life was when he started getting public recognition of his art. By then it was too late, he was already too broken and his life ended tragically via suicide (there is some debate on this fact in the book Vincent: The Life. See the tools and resources section at the end of this post for a link to the book). 

When you are rejected, your story isn’t resonating with that other person’s story. This can be applied beyond the work world to personal relationships as well. Vincent struggled because he tried to get acceptance from people who didn’t buy his story about art, that you could express color through painting.

If your story doesn’t work this time, that’s ok. We can learn from failure and try again with a different audience. We want to make connections with people that share the same story, that buy our story. Seth Godin calls this “playing the game.” You want to be able to throw a ball with someone, have them catch it eagerly, and throw it back. Think of a person playing fetch with their dog. They’re not going to throw the ball as hard as they can. They want their dog to keep wanting to play with them to bring the ball back to them, to anticipate it with joy and excitement.

We want to apply those same principles to our art.

Take Risks

Great art is risky. No idea is original, so you take ideas that exist and do “the leap,” or change one thing about that product or service. An example is organic tea that is fair trade. Organic tea isn’t original, but fair trade could be the new spin on an old product. That spin is the “leap,” the risk. It’s when you’re saying to the world “I want to change you, I want to change you for the better.” And there’s risk to that, because there is vulnerability. Because your idea might not work. BUT it could work. And that’s what makes it truly brilliant.

You want to change people and create for people that buy your story. Eventually, others will buy into your story, if you keep relationships going with those who are throwing the ball with you. Feed your network and the network will eventually feed you back. If your first attempt at art doesn’t work, try again. Learn. Improve.

Neil Gaiman, best-selling author, touches on this as well in his 2012 Commencement speech to Philadelphia entitled Make Good Art: “The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them…Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here.”

Neither Neil Gaiman nor van Gogh, or anyone else who have accomplished great things, would had never been able to so if they didn’t love what they were doing to the point where they got absorbed in the process of creating while sticking to their goal. Innovation is a process that must be created, refined, tested and refined again and again. If you want to accomplish your goals, you must have that same inspiration that drives you for taking action and sticking with it through the good times and the bad times.

Remember, the game is to make the art. It’s the process. You want to be paid to make the art you want to make.

How do you handle rejection of your art? What tools have you used to overcome and create great art? Share below in the comments!

Tools & Resources:
Vincent: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith
Neil Gaiman – Inspirational Commencement Speech at the University of the Arts 2012

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