The Rejection

Mov­ing to a new town is fun. New peo­ple, new inspi­ra­tion, new places. And, if you’re lucky, new pho­tog­ra­phy oppor­tu­ni­ties. And Nashville has been quite kind with those opportunities.

But then you get the note. “Thank you for apply­ing, but your work was not select­ed…” We’ve all received that mes­sage at var­i­ous times. I’ve cer­tain­ly got­ten my share of them before, but last week was the first time I’d been hon­ored with one since mov­ing here. And it broke the hot streak, which real­ly I had no con­trol over any more than a MLB play­er’s socks have con­trol over his bat­ting aver­age. There are just so many fac­tors — the juror, the oth­er sub­mis­sions, the pre­vi­ous work the juror saw, the goal of the call, etc. It’s as if the actu­al work is just a small, small piece of the puzzle.

And so it’s easy to get a lit­tle frus­trat­ed, a lit­tle down. Why both­er cre­at­ing any­thing if it might as well sit in a draw­er? No one dreams of being Vivian Maier!

Accents 2014 #3

Accents 2014 #3

Sub­mit­ting work is a lit­tle like send­ing your child off to school. I’ve writ­ten about this before, and I still think it’s a work­able metaphor. You believe your work is unique and incred­i­ble but now your child will be part of a group where every­one believes their off­spring is spe­cial and has just so much to share with the world. And some­times your child does­n’t get picked for the lead role in the play, or even picked for any role. Which hurts, right? It stings and you feel judged both as a par­ent and you feel your child’s per­cep­tion of judgement.

But you pick them up, and you pick your­self up, and keep on with life. There are lessons in rejec­tion. We can hone our craft when we don’t make a cut. Even though there may not have been much con­trol over the selec­tion process, it is still an oppor­tu­ni­ty to revis­it and refine.

There will be future shows, and maybe even future shows where the same work is accept­ed. The time will come but only if we try again.

The Knoxville Show, July 2013

I have been show­ing work in gal­leries since 2000, but almost always in solo exhi­bi­tions. There is a com­fort in the solo show — you know all the work that will be there, you have con­trol over the lay­out and the flow of view. Group shows, in con­trast, have seemed far more ter­ri­fy­ing. What if my work is the worst? What if my work is great but stuck in a dim cor­ner by the trash cans? Many vari­ables, lit­tle control.

Although my child isn’t old enough to go to school, I envi­sion the process of drop­ping him off on the first day of school and then pick­ing up after to be sim­i­lar to the process of a group show. When I dropped off my work, I got a quick glimpse of the oth­er pieces but no real time too con­sid­er them and see if they will mesh well with my work. Will there be fun? Will friends be made? And then when the open­ing exhi­bi­tion comes around, it is time to see how the pieces all came togeth­er. Is your work a good fit, part of the com­mu­ni­ty? Does it stand out (in an encour­ag­ing or dis­tract­ing way?) Will there be tears or laugh­ter in the reception?

Of course, for every solo oppor­tu­ni­ty, there are ten or twen­ty (or a hun­dred) group shows call­ing for artists. And since I’d always rather my work be shown to the pub­lic than stacked in my stu­dio, I have been apply­ing dili­gent­ly for exhi­bi­tions. And ear­li­er this sum­mer I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be part of a group show in Knoxville. Below is a pho­to I made of my sub­mit­ted print with a lit­tle con­text of place­ment and sur­round­ing pieces.

Work at Emporium, Knoxville July 2013

Work at Empo­ri­um, Knoxville July 2013

First off, I have to share that I did­n’t win any of the eli­gi­ble prizes (Best in Trav­el cat­e­go­ry, Best of Show) but the pieces that did win were exquis­ite. I was very hap­py with the results of the juried com­pe­ti­tion. The win­ning pieces in my cat­e­gories were well com­posed, well exe­cut­ed and well print­ed. Kudos to them.

That said, the biggest sur­prise was the crowd. It was a well attend­ed event (maybe two or three hun­dred atten­dees?) and my work had a fair amount of atten­tion. At least some of it was com­men­tary along the lines of “It’s just a bath­room cab­i­net, I could have done that” — which is admit­ted­ly some of the most qui­et­ly grat­i­fy­ing crit­i­cism out there. But I did over­hear some praise for the col­or rep­re­sen­ta­tion and detail to the tex­ture and form of the sub­ject. An expect­ed mix.

Of those whose work as in the show, I’d say that forty of the fifty rep­re­sent­ed artists attend­ed the open­ing. And that is where I heard the most sur­pris­ing com­men­tary. The grip­ing from the pho­tog­ra­phers around the Best of Show piece — Som­merville #84 on the artist’s web­site — was astound­ing. “It’s just a bunch of black with a build­ing” or “Who cares about an auto shop” or “It is so bor­ing” …I sup­pose I should not have been sur­prised, but I def­i­nite­ly was dis­ap­point­ed. One artist on the street was telling oth­ers walk­ing in “Don’t both­er, they chose a stu­pid pho­to for the win­ner.” So, so sad that appre­ci­a­tion of work passed by for so many people.

All that said, I was def­i­nite­ly glad I sub­mit­ted and went to the exhi­bi­tion. It was a good excuse to get to Knoxville and check out down­town, make con­nec­tions with a few oth­er artists, and see how my work looked hung and in con­text of oth­er artists and their photography.

Thanks to the Empo­ri­um in Knoxville and the Knoxville Arts & Cul­ture Alliance for host­ing the show. It was great fun, and I was hon­ored to be a part of the exhibition.