How to Overcome Rejection as You Seek Gallery Representation

Let’s just be frank – as an artist trying to get your art out to the world and into galleries, you are going to run into some rejection. Few artists have found success in the art world without first enduring failure. Not every gallery is going to see the merit of your work, and some of them are going to be pretty forthright in telling you what’s wrong with it. You’re going to have to face some “no’s” to get to that much anticipated “yes.”

As an artist, you would be well served to begin developing a thick skin. Don’t let criticism or rejection stop you from pursuing your passion. Remember, any opinion given by a gallery owner or director is just that, an opinion.

I’ve met too many artists who, after facing two or three harsh rejections, have retreated to their studios where they will hide in their work for months or even years before venturing out into the world again. “I just need to create more work and get a little better before I’m ready to go back out there,” they might say.

If you are creating the best work you can, and if you’ve prepared yourself following the principles I’ve been laying out over the last several months in this course, you are ready for gallery representation. Don’t be afraid to pursue it.

There are many ways to increase your odds for success and reduce the likelihood of rejection (may I humbly suggest reading or rereading “Starving” to Successful), but some level of rejection is inevitable. I would like to spend just a minute sharing some quick tips on how to prepare for and overcome the inevitable rejection you will face as you share your art with the world. These are tips that have helped me when I face rejection with clients, but they will also help you overcome rejection as you attempt to show your work to galleries.

Tips for Overcoming Rejection

1. Know the odds. It sounds counter intuitive, but knowing that most attempts to find gallery representation are going to fail, can help you feel less dejected when a gallery says “no thanks!” The number of rejections you are going to face before being accepted can vary depending on your style of work, your personality, your preparation and any number of other factors, but if you tell yourself to expect 20 rejections before you have success, each rejection will feel like a step down the road to success, instead of a stinging defeat.

2. Force yourself to keep going. As you prepare to approach galleries, make a list of galleries that are possibilities and commit to approach all of them, no matter what happens. It’s unlikely the first gallery you approach will accept your work, so make sure you have a plan b, a plan c and so on. As soon as one gallery let’s you know they’re not interested, roll on to the next one.

3. Don’t take rejection personally. Even though some gallery owners  may feel a need to reject you in a very personal way, criticizing you and your work, there’s no need to take the rejection to heart.

4. Talk to other artists and learn how they’ve overcome rejection. It’s very easy to feel like you’re the only artist who’s ever been rejected so resoundingly. Talking to other artists about their experience can help you realize you are far from alone. Start by reading the comments below!

We all fear rejection, but as you gain experience and wisdom in the art business, you’ll come to see that rejection is just another part of the process of building a successful art career.

Help an Artist – Share your Experiences!

Have you encountered a particularly harsh rejection from a gallery? How did you overcome it? What have you done to develop a thicker skin in the face of rejection? Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

 

Starving to Successful

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In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

23 Comments

  1. I’m printing this one out and posting it in my studio! Last year’s rejection of a series actually requested BY the gallery knocked my confidence so far out of me, I really couldn’t make a good painting for months. I appreciate the idea of all those “no’s” leading me to a “yes.” Last week I did some traveling to some tourist destinations in my state and entered each gallery I came across. When approached by the gallerist, I did say that I was a painter as opposed to a collector and I was interested in the type of work being shown. Two of them said they were expanding their online presence and looking for abstract work and that I should send them some images. It has encouraged me to find others like that and the list of possible galleries is growing. I will add that I have work in a gallery in my city and that it is a subscription-type situation. I pay a reasonable fee for a certain wall space. We are in the midst of contract negotiations and I may not continue with them as it seems I must cede control of my images and my work to the complete discretion of and use by the gallery owner. It’s hard to know what to do in this instance as this gallery did sell three of my paintings last month.

  2. I totally understand the concept of rejection. In the past three years I have been in a national touring museum exhibition with 14 other hyperrealism artists, had a solo show in another museum, been juried into 5 international shows, have been published in 2 magazines, not to mention numerous contest awards, but have never had any response to my inquiries to galleries. I have not been told no, they just do not respond at all. I show in a member gallery but that is closed due to the virus. Perhaps my presentation is not as polished as it should be, or maybe I just need to move on from galleries. It is confusing to say the least. i just recently sold 5 pieces on-line. Four to facebook contacts, and one to a repeat customer.

  3. Jason, you seem to have rejected my art for your little weekly critique session after you requested some samples of my work. That’s okay — I’ll put my art against most of the overpriced decorative stuff currently hanging in your gallery.

    Yours seems like a pretentious racket, anyway.

    1. Btw, if one is rejected that simply means it wasn’t a right fit. I understand as most of my paintings carry a Caribe/Mayan theme, as compared to Southwestern desert vibe that you mostly deal in. Maybe you should have sent me an email rejection instead of just letting me hang in the Wind, though,. Getting blown off is no way to grow.

      Shoot, I’ve performed in the entertainment in LA for ten years, am a professional writer and published author. Rejection, hermano, is pretty much a staple!

      Anyway, adios and buenos suerte, Jason.

  4. I simply annot begin to comprehend the hurtful reactions expressed by so many artists due to one – or many – of gallery rejections.
    I see it on Facebook all the time – bright-eyed young artists breathlessly showing their embryonic works, begging for approval and asking if anyone knows of any galleries who might be willing to take them on.
    Some time ago, one particular artist breezily announced her exhibition (giving actual dates) – and then proceeded to ask if any reader knew of suitable galleries where she could have this particular show! It was mind numbingly audacious and I very politely told her about the proper order of events – of which she was apparently familiar.

    Pioneering galleries no longer exist and the ones that exist only show stuff which is in vogue and which will swell their koffers. At least you cannot blame them for that as their rents must be high.
    Another avenue is to explore the so-called ‘vanity gallery’. The Agora in NYC is one of those and whose insistant emails I still receive. Their ethos in order to host you is ‘money up front’ ($3850) – and which I’ve always declined with happy laughter.

    Rejection? – Simply get up, dust yourself off and continue down your path. If they remain recalcitrant, explore the plentiful social media openings.

  5. I’ve approached only a couple of galleries over the past several years and since my return to full time painting after many years as an illustrator. None recently at all, so I have yet to find full time gallery representation for my work. That said, after years in publishing, my skin is very thick; that’s a very tough world so rejection by a gallery would not be a big deal for me. My work does get into many juried shows around the country each year. Those curators like it so I must be doing something right. I just wish I could translate that acceptance into finding the right gallery representation for my art. Shouldn’t a good CV carry some weight? In any event I keep painting and selling privately.

  6. Galleries are struggling more than ever as far as I can see, and boy howdy, times are tough all over. Why would gallerists/curators want to take a chance on an unknown? Not a good business model, right? Show what sells? Totally get that. So I assume to be taken on as a new artist you would (1) have to be *very* “en vogue”, (2) a rock solid good fit for the gallery, which has worked hard to develop a reputation and clientele and is already known for what it is/sells, AND (3) truly accomplished in your work in order to be competitive enough for even a first look. Those are some pretty specific boxes to tick….

    1. Casey,
      I love your attitude. And you’ve hit the nail on the head. As you’ve said galleries are businesses. Frankly, I don’t believe I would want to be in a gallery that was only using my work to fill wall space. Just as we paint with passion, a representing gallery manager would need that passion to sell my work.
      LL

  7. I operated galleries in numerous countries over decades along with my minor parteners.. , the one thing that was a common experience was inexperienced, ill prepared and uninformed artists entering the door with a chip on their shoulder. As an artist myself i attempted to give every possible leeway to artists presentations of both themselves and their work but it is possible to only go so far.
    The key to success is be prepared, do your homework on the nature of work and methods of contact that the particular gallery deals with, be respectful of the business process… a gallery owner is attempting to make a living most often through a passion for a particular form of art or artistic practice. Being bold and assertive with your art is ok but do not cross the line to aggressive which will earn an instant pointed rejection. Make it easy for them to say YES.
    My approach to the process of representation as an artist was to create and market intl projects for which galleries were ill equipped to handle within their business models. Most galleries sell objects with a bit of concept thrown in, they are not money machines. In my carrear once ready for galleries i simply started my own operations. Learn about the gallery business it will pay dividends when you understand the other side of the coin.
    As an artist seeking representation your going to get kicked a number of times. its not personal most of the time. Success in any business is not overnight just keep on moving both artistically and presentation wise. being in a gallery does not guarantee success it is only one more opportunity.

  8. Nice, encouraging post. My problem, aside from no gallery accepting my work, is that most galleries do not respond at all. Concerning Carol, who wrote above that the gallery she is working with is requiring her to, “cede control of her images”. if she means allow them to reproduce her images, I think that is a big concern.

  9. I, too, come from a world of publishing guided by my agent. My biggest mistake was to approach a gallery owner when I first started with a hodge-podge of a portfolio as if she should do an agent’s job as well. As we talked I took her objective, unemotional approach to my work as rejection, but I was lucky. She chose a piece in the direction I was heading and said “come back when you have more like this.” I did and they still have my work. I have had to learn to put together a portfolio that I can present with confident enthusiasm, not the frantic hope of a hodge-podge of work presented with fingers crossed that the owner will like something. And now I need to build a more current portfolio and organized website!

  10. I can understand that a gallery owner/operator is a small business person who has limited time during the working day but it would be considerate to reply if a artist submits their work to a gallery for the gallery operator to reply one way or another. Most do but you do have a few that don’t show the courtesy. It leaves a bad mark or image to that gallery. And this is true for most business aspects other than art.

    As far for presenting to a gallery you better do your homework first and see if you even fit it’s style or vibe. Be present in the social media circle and be professional getting the gallery owner’s interest helps as well. This includes a well designed website. You generally get one swing at the art gallery fence and you better be prepared.

    The artist and the art business is a very competitive and a tough trade. Keeping your spirit high can be a challenge. If you get a rejection step back and take a deep breath and continue on with looking for reasons it happened. And hopefully you will have success next time.

  11. When I’m interviewing in person, one thing I have done that helps me deal with rejection and learn from it is to ask the gallery owner if they have the time and willingness to give me some feedback on the thinking that lead them to reject my work. I always preface this with “I’m not looking to argue with you; I respect your decision. But if you can spare me another minute, I would love to learn what you can teach me about my work.” Sometimes they have been gracious, and the ones who have given feedback have taught me a lot. This helps me leave with a plan, which feels much better than leaving baffled.

  12. My first rejection happened when I was 15. My dad was proud of my artwork and took me to our local gallery with my latest painting. It was a mare and foal running in grass, (because they had to be running on something) with a couple trees and a fence in the background, and of course a sky with clouds, because I had to fill the whole canvas. I made up the horses, which were correct.
    The gallerist could have told me I needed to work on composition, color, contrast and other obvious principles of art. Instead, he said, “Oh we would NEVER show a piece that was copied from a photograph.”
    I didn’t reply. We left, and the message to my teenage self was Galleries Don’t Like Me.
    So I did commissions, sold at shows, did magazine illustrations, and sold a lot of artwork. I did have some gallery representation, because I was invited, and aside from slumps, etc, had a sometimes productive relationship with some of them. But my phobia never left me. I will fight through that next time I approach every gallery.

  13. This is a great way to handle it Louise. It puts you in the “driver’s seat” about your own art career! Well Done! (I’m responding both as an artist myself with my own share of rejections, and as a gallery owner who successfully represented about 20 artists.

  14. I’ve been painting for many years but am only now preparing to approach galleries this coming Autumn, with new work I’ve been developing. Thanks for all your experiences and insights, which are helpful and much appreciated.

  15. i have entered several local shows and get rejected from most of them. it makes me feel like i need to develop my art further before entertaining the thought of gallery representation. I am constantly growing and changing. maybe my work has not hit the mark yet. who knows? it can be confusing. but one thing i do know. bottom line: i need to be doing it because i love making art. it is for ME.

  16. I had the chance to talk to a prolific sculptor who has work in numerous galleries throughout the states. I asked him if he has been in the situation of having work at a gallery for a long period of time with no sales and if he does anything. His reply was that after one year if there are no sales he then contacts the gallery offering to change out the work they have for something else. This way he gets to keep rotating his work to different galleries so if it is not selling at one it might generate some interest at another. He took the proactive approach and he said it also keeps him in communication with the galleries to get feedback on how his work is being received or if there is any interest in it. I like that approach rather than waiting for the gallery to contact you as it shows your interest in keeping what they show of your art fresh and your commitment to the business side of your art.

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