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Head in the noose please...

It's a truism to say that to be an artist is to know rejection, but lately I've had my fill of it...

I've had two rejections in the last week alone. I applied for a post updating a public art website and didn't even get an interview, despite what I felt was my ample experience. And then today, I've heard that my application for funding from the Arts Council has been rejected - and yes that's the word the nice lady on the phone actually said. Rejected. No beating about the bush. No niceties. Rejected. That's me. A reject. And funnily enough that's just how I feel.

Over the last 10 months I've been rejected by the Newlyn Society of Artists, The Jerwood Drawing Prize, Aspex Open, Artsway Open...and what's more I've had to pay for the privelege. Oh yes, 'open' exhibitions and competitions are only open if you are willing and able to pay around 15 quid for the privilege. And, for that privilege not only do you have to pay, you have to send copious quantities of slides or cds that you've paid for, and in the case of Jerwood be willing to drive to Exeter (75+ miles) to deliver and collect your masterpiece, the one that you know in your heart of hearts no one is going to recognise for the masterpiece that you know it is. You also spend hours writing appropriate CV's and statements about your work - worrying whether you've said enough or too much, or whether you sound like a pompous idiot or just a plain one. You also worry about whether your work will match the nebulous selection criteria that so often isn't even published; you just make a guess as to whether you think that what you've produced this year might match what they chose for the exhibition last year, in terms of quality and / or style. Then you realise that what they exhibited last year, is soooo not this year and that you don't have even a miniscule hope of discovering exactly what it is they're looking for this time around. So, you sit down, package a little bit of your life up in a nice brown envelope, write another cheque and fire another shot into the darkness, knowing that the likely recoil will be more than enough to knock you down.

In an essay titled 'Open to the possibility: How to submit yourself to an art prize' Sacha Craddock (2005) says

While it may still feel a touch soul destroying to submit that application fee, photograph the work, then title, explain and interpret it for others, it is worth the effort.

What she doesn't acknowledge is that it's a little more than 'a touch' soul destroying; it is in fact a constant chipping away of your self esteem. And, perhaps surprisingly to you, most artists that I know don't have a whole lot of that in the first place. Craddock goes on

Without experience in equal measures, of criticism and fallibility, the 'isolated' work of art becomes overworked, overloved, overnourished and overprotected, like an only child born to a suffocating parent.

This of course infers that the work isn't being seen anywhere else, and while the rejection slips that we inevitably receive do convey fallibility, they don't offer any criticism at all. Nothing. You never have a clue as to why your work was rejected, whether the judges thought your work of poor quality, didn't fit an emerging theme, was possibly incomprehensible to the organiser's potential audience, or even the organiser. Inevitably, if your self esteem has been well and truly chipped, you begin to believe that they believe your work is crap. And, if your self esteem is well and truly chipped, you begin to believe that they might actually be right.

So why does someone like me do it then, subject themself to what feels like ritual rejection? Because, as Craddock also rightly says 'Any opportunity for exposure is important'. Especially if, like me, your work has no appeal to commerical galleries. If you don't paint nice landscapes (even nice abstract landscapes) of your local countryside, nice pictures of boating scenes or nice pictures of your neighbour's cat, all of which have an identifiable niche, and therefore a monetary value that the gallery can rely on to make a sale to pay its bills, you don't have a lot of choice but to enter the 'open lottery'. Because, as much as a lottery as these open exhibitions obviously are, they do seem to be run by organisations willing to take a chance on things that don't have immediate commercial value, preferring to rely instead on the cache gained from the possibility of spotting the potential 'next best thing in the art world'. But they need to minimise the risks of selecting a dud, and this means that if you don't already have a verifiably jam-packed cv, or low and behold, don't know one of the organisers or jury members who will invite you to enter for free with a nod and a wink, you will have to rely on the luck of the lottery draw. And, like all lotteries, the chances of your number actually coming up are, well, slim...

So in light of this weeks' rejections, I've decided to take them in my stride yet again - after some consolation I should say. Others might drown their sorrows, but I prefer to cocoa-ise mine and so far today have consumed precisely three bars of chocolate, which I will undoubtedly feel so guilty about tomorrow that I will have to go for a run that's three times longer than usual! I wonder if I'll be able to fit it in before I sit down and fill in that application form for a residency in Scotland, that's been temptingly sitting on my desk for a week... Scotland?! What the hell, I know it would cause nightmares in childcare if I had to spend four weeks that far away from home - but we all know how likely that is to happen now, don't we...


Stephanie Boon

Sept 2006

NB The nice thing is that artcornwall can, exclusively, reveal that Steph did get her residency in Scotland!! Perhaps if it was too easy it would not be worth doing....


Craddock S 'Open to the possibility: How to submit yourself to an art prize' (pp320 - 321) in Ward O (Ed) (2005) The Artist's Year Book 2006, All the information and advice you need to get ahead in the UK art world, London, Thames and Hudson