Being an artist is creative and rewarding. It is also a position that is vulnerable and lonely. I made my career in an objective, logical engineering world. In contrast, the artist’s world I live in now is based on opinion and perception. I have never felt so vulnerable and out of control.
A popular view is that the artist is a lone wolf. Fiercely independent, self-sufficient, going his own way regardless of what anyone thinks. To a certain extent, this is true. I think an artist has to have the fortitude to maintain his independence in the face of adversity and pressure to conform.
Unfortunately, there is a cost to being this lone wolf. A lone wolf is, well, alone. He is isolated, vulnerable, having to go it alone. It’s a position where you don’t have a support infrastructure. You don’t really have people to build you up when you are knocked down. You don’t have people to take care of things and offload work from you – you have to do everything yourself. This can get debilitating at times.
Some artists maintain a network of mentors, confidants, and collaborators. I envy them.
For me, one of the hardest things is to have the courage and determination to keep pressing on. I am not a natural marketer. It is hard to “put myself out there”. Making noise for myself is a very uncomfortable thing. Especially when I am continually getting knocked down emotionally and passed over.
An artist has to believe in himself. To believe he has a vision and a message that people should pay attention to. This has to carry him through rough patches when things seem to be going against him. When you seem to be a lone voice in the world, this can be hard to maintain.
Coming in in the morning with a fresh resolve can be trying. Sometimes it is difficult to say “I am an artist; I believe in myself and know I have something to bring the world”. And act on it.
Rejection is a part of life, especially for an artist. We have to expect it, even seek it. If you are not being rejected, you’re not trying.
But it takes a toll. I think even the strongest pay an emotional cost when we are rejected. It’s like being back in school and not being picked for the team or not receiving the scholarship or just not being asked to sit at the table with the “cool” kids. You know it is going to happen sometimes, but it still leaves a bruise.
With rejection the world seems to be telling me I’m not good enough. That I don’t stack up to the competition. That I probably should just give up.
But the world is a bitter and heartless place. I have to shrug it off and believe my own inner voice rather than a message some stranger is giving me. I have to believe in myself, even when others don’t.
Possibly even worse than rejection is indifference. When my art seems to not matter at all to anybody. When everything seems to be futile.
This is another tool the world uses to try to crush the aspirations of most artists. and it works a lot of the time.
I sometimes think I would rather have someone write me and tell me they hate my work. At least they took a moment to acknowledge it. (No, it’s an exaggeration. I’m not really asking you to tell me how much you hate what I do.)
This has been much more negative than I usually am. Vulnerability can do that. Rejection and isolation can be cumulative.
But I think the real point I am trying to make is that these things will come. They happen to everybody. The question is, what am I going to do about it?
I said an artist has to believe in himself. That is kind of trite, but nevertheless true. Being vulnerable or discouraged or feeling isolated are part of what we have to accept if we call ourselves an artist. If we are feeling down are we going to pick ourselves up, metaphorically, and find the will to go on? Or are we going to pack it in and stop doing our art? It is our call. Nobody else can decide.
I know of artists who claim to seek rejection and collect rejection letters. Good for them, if they are telling the truth. But good for them regardless, because the attitude is right.
If I apply for something and get rejected, I have to understand that just means I was not right for that exhibit or the juror was looking for a different style or the gallery has a different culture. The rejection was not a legal certificate from a higher authority saying “you’re not an artist and you should give this up immediately.”
I am an artist. I believe in what I do. That has to come from inside. If I listen to what other people say I will doubt myself. If I doubt myself, it will inhibit my creativity and my ability to express my vision and my will to apply for that next opportunity. I’m a lone wolf.
Back full circle to the idea of vulnerability. Yes, I am vulnerable in the sense that I am out there, on the edge, exposed to the world, all alone. I have to take the hits and survive. I have to have a strong enough belief in my ability that it can carry me through the rejections and indifference.
This can be one of the hardest parts of the art world. Many artists are introverts and somewhat shy and self doubting. We have to get over ourselves and put our work out there for the world to deal with. Rejection will come, but we have to go on if we believe we have something worthwhile.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
To me, this is what it is about. I have to be in the arena to become what I want to be.