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Overcoming the Fear of Rejection: A Guide for Artists

Rejection hurts. And it tends to stick with us for a long time afterward.

I think that’s why some artists are a little fearful when it comes to showing their art. They’ve been rejected before by being told they weren’t good enough. They’ve been told they’d never make it in the arts.

At the other end of the spectrum however, there are many very confident artists who appear to have no fear at all. These artists will jump at the chance to show their art anywhere, anytime, to anyone.

And while it’s tough to adjust our personalities or overcome deep-seated fears, it’s that second type of artist that we should all strive to be, if we want to be successful.

Understanding the artist’s fear of rejection

First, let me say that some folks are just more shy than others—and that definitely plays a part in how we handle criticism and rejection of our art. I know my fair share of "wallflower" artists. I also know a lot of "firebrand" artists.

But personality isn’t the entire reason that an artist might be afraid to show their work. For instance, I have a very good friend (a writer) who’s never allowed me to read any of the fiction she’s written.

If it were simply the case of being shy, our friendship would surely have overcome the problem. No, there’s something else.

In my opinion, the main reason that some artists get nervous (or flat-out scared) of showing their art is because they’re so wrapped up in it personally that they can’t keep themselves separate.

They ARE their work.

So when their art is on display, they are too. And when their work is critiqued, so are they. This is the root of the problem.

Why this fear will hold us back

Compared with other fears (sharks, spiders, etc) this one seems pretty tame. It’s almost like stage fright or the fear of public speaking. But imagine being an actor with stage fright, or a politician who is scared of making speeches.

As artists, this fear will always affect how we promote ourselves and our work. After all, if we aren’t confident about our art, why would anyone be confident enough to buy it from us? And if we can’t stand to hear our work critiqued or analyzed, how will we ever grow and learn?

For us to be truly successful, we need to be able to show our work to anyone, and be able to share why we’re proud of it. We also need to be able to accept criticism (and even outright dislike) of our work and move on.

How to overcome the fear of rejection

If you find yourself too nervous to show your art to gallery managers, potential buyer, or anyone else who could further your career, here are three things that might help:

1. Separate yourself, emotionally, from the art

I don’t really know if I can accurately describe this process—and you’ll need to find a process that works for you—but the idea is just to put some emotional distance between yourself and your work.

If it takes holding a mental ceremony when you finish a piece, do it. Convince yourself that you no longer are tied to this particular work. It’s done. Finished. In the past.

Believe that when you completed it you did the best that you could. Now, it stands alone, a work of art like any other—the comments that people make about it DO NOT reflect on you personally.

I used to do something very similar to that before going into a critique. I needed a wall between myself and my work. Today, I think I do it more subconsciously, but that wall still goes up, and it helps.

2. Know the artwork’s "flaws"

Once you’ve separated yourself from your art, try to pick out the flaws in it yourself. In doing so, you’re preparing yourself for the worst.

Sure, it could be that no one will see the flaws that you see—but perhaps someone will, and if they do, you’ll be ready for it: you’ll have already accepted it and moved on.

3. Go to as many critiques as possible

If you get nervous just thinking about a group critique, start small. Ask an artist friend (not a regular friend or a family member) to critique your art one-on-one before you enter the full group critique.

If you pick the right person, he or she will point out where you can improve while still being supportive. Then see if the group mentions the same things.

It may not be as easy hearing it from them as it was one-on-one, but odds are they won’t catch you by surprise (and having a friend in the group will help too).

Keep going to as many good critique groups as you can—in time, you WILL get used to constructive criticism, and that will help prepare you for the less-constructive criticism that you may come across everywhere else.

Want more? Check back next week for an article on overcoming the fear of failure.

*Note: this post may contain affiliate links*

Why are we afraid of failing? Of all the fears I've discussed in this series, this one is fairly universal. Everyone fears failure.

Of course, what people do with that fear is very different. Some folks use that fear to spur themselves toward greater effort and loftier achievements. Others feel the fear and never try. They take the safe road, the easy route.

For many. . . read more

If you're looking for something else. . .
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