I did not write my weekly post last week because I was in a deep funk. Work had got me down, the lot in back of me was being developed (bye bye trees), and neither of my paintings had got into the Watercolor Society of Oregon Spring Exhibition. My feelings were hurt
Looking at the list of names as well as the images that have come across my Facebook feed, it looks like a really strong show. I carefully liked all my friends’ paintings (I really am excited for my friends) and reread Ruth Armitage‘s classic essay “Rejected Again, Hooray!” But, honestly, my feelings were hurt.
I think both entries are strong pieces. I like them. Both say something important to me as well as being a technique stretch. I told myself that it’s just one juror’s opinion on the day. 124 artists submitted over 200 paintings; only 80 artists/paintings were accepted. But this makes the third rejection in a row from WSO. My feelings were hurt.
I considered my next steps. Did I want to change direction? No. I’m not sure where I’m going right now, but like the bearing. My feelings were still hurt.
Did I want to disparage juror, Vera Dickerson, and generally rant about the unfairness of it all? Well, maybe a little, but it wasn’t the most attractive option to express the fact that my feelings were hurt.
Did I want to slink into a hole of never again trying anything? To shun “them” before they could shun me? No, and while my feelings were still hurt, I know when I’m close to going over the top. (Don’t laugh so hard.)
Most artists are the kids who loved art class. “What I nice drawing of a fish,” made our little hearts melt. “I like those colors,” just made us use up another crayon. As an adult, going into a workshop can be a challenge because everyone else was that kid as well. You quickly learn that the journey to the top of the class is steep. In a real sense, our little kid selves want nothing more than for the workshop instructor to say, “Everyone look at this nice turkey!”
Art exhibitions (or shows or exhibit or fair) tap into that angst. We put our best paintings forward, hoping that the juror might be someone who says, “Yeah, I get that.” But depending on a laundry list of factors, none of which has to do with the artist, it’s a toss up what might be included or get the dreaded Thank-You-For-Entering letter.
In a real sense, art shows are one of the few places that artists get meaningful validation. When I post something on Facebook, many people click like or comment that it’s pretty, but few really respond. On Season 3, Episode 1 of Grace & Frankie, main character Frankie has an art show. At the end, no paintings have sold, but one woman lingers in front of one of the paintings. Frankie asks why she stays, and the woman responds that it reminds her of something deeply emotional. The anonymous woman then admits she can’t afford the painting. Frankie says, “I think we can make a deal.” That really rings true for me, and I think other artists. We’d rather see a painting go to a good home than get a sale.
When you are rejected from a big, national show, it’s easy to shrug it off; the competition is intense. Not getting into more local shows can really sting. While you console yourself with thoughts about being in good company (your friends who were also rejected), those feelings are still hurt.
Over time, artists have to develop a thick skin. We try techniques that fail. We take paintings to critique groups and hear comments we’d rather not. We enter shows and don’t get in. But with each success, confidence grows. Ruth’s essay is representational of the confidence an artist needs to keep coming back to the blank paper, knowing nothing is guaranteed.
And my feelings are still hurt.
I mulled all this over as I sat down at my workspace again.
Confidence. Authenticity. Expression. Process, not product. Just a silly show.
All this introspection sounds wonderful, doesn’t it. But what really perked me up was learning on Wednesday that “State of the Nation” won 4th place in the 2023 Making Our Marks 9th Member Only Online Exhibition of the International Society of Experimental Artists (ISEA).
My feelings aren’t so hurt now. Funny how that happens…