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

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

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

44 Comments

  1. *sigh
    Yes, rejection… my old friend…
    NO!!!!!!!
    No feeling sorry for myself, not NOW!!!!!
    I am a member to a rather nice art center where my husband happens to be faculty.
    Since we got married the “one who is in charge” has been spotted taking my work that had been accepted into shows and pull it.
    AH!!!!! The frustration!!!!!
    B U T….
    I used this to move myself forward!
    I’d gotten used to a certain sense of place there.
    Now I’m taking bold chances, ok, not “bold “, just chances!!!!
    Growing daily: not only has my vision of myself as an artist, vision for my work AND determination to grow from every painting I do!!!!!!!
    Whoa has turned into WOW!!!
    Courage feels much better then allowing time to be upset🙏❤️

  2. Always remember that galleries are in the business to make money, and most of them know the type of art their market is looking for. A gallery owner may love your work, however may not feel that it works in their gallery. They also have other artists to support, so may not have room at the present time. Some of the greatest artists had to deal with rejection, so just consider it a part of the business, and don’t take it personally. It is good to listen to what a gallery owner has to say regarding your work, but do not let it dictate how you create.

  3. Jason,
    I would love to hand a copy of this post to every artist who applies to our nonprofit art association seeking representation in our gallery. A long ago art professor once did me a huge favor by bringing a 2” thick binder to class on the first day. She placed (or rather, slammed) it on a table and said, “These are my rejection letters; you are welcome to read them to help you develop a thick skin”.
    Pat

  4. I first approached a gallery before I’d found your blog and read any of your advice on this topic. The rejection was at least encouraging. The owner liked my work but I didn’t have a large enough body yet. I’m expecting to be ready to start trying again by the end of the year. Locally, there are only a few options but the biggest obstacle for me at this time is getting the works framed. If I aim for other galleries in more distant cities, then there’s also the cost of shipping them. So for the time being, I’m going to focus on completing more of my series in progress and put money aside as I can for the expenses I’ll face in the future if/when I find a ‘yes’. I’m also going to get your book so I can be better prepared for what to expect once I get started on the queries again.

    1. Madison, have you considered buying ready-made frames and mats? I don’t know where you live, but here in Victoria BC Canada we have an art store called Opus (based in Vancouver, I think) which carries a really great line of ready-made easily assemblable frames that are of high quality and ready to use. It has certainly made it possible for me with a tiny income to frame my work. I do work on paper, requiring a frame with glass. I only frame those works which I am going to show or sell, and can easily unframe one and use it for another if I wish.

      1. Madison Woods, Here’s another idea: Long ago, a gallery owner in Palm Desert encouraged me to figure out a way to present my watercolor paintings without glass. I took him up on it and developed my own method of mounting my paintings on pre-stretched canvases. It works great. Paintings are protected, glare is reduced, and shipping without glass is much more affordable. I’ve written a brief description of my process on my website.

    2. That’s sort of like my first rejection. I was told that ‘I was all over the place, and to come back when I found myself . . .’ I haven’t returned yet, I guess I just have trouble using a map. But I’m sure that sooner or later, I’ll ‘find myself,’ and try again. (I’m still trying to figure out just what she meant . . .)

      1. When you’ve “found yourself” someone will be able to recognize your work. Like if you saw a group of paintings and can pick out the Monet or the Picasso. That would be because you recognized that artist’s work. Although others might try to reproduce the style, each artist brings themselves to the painting and that part is harder to copy. That is my understanding of it anyway.

      2. I had that problem for years until a professor of mine told me to consider working in series. It made all the difference for me. I would create a large body of work in each series. It also helped me to focus.

    3. Hi Madison, One solution to the frame and the expense of shipping framed paintings, (not to mention the fact that frames can get damaged even though they’re carefully packaged), is to paint on the gallery-wrap canvas that are so popular today. No frame is necessary with these 1.5 to 2″ thick canvases. Shipping is so much lighter in weight and therefore less expensive. Maybe give them a ‘look’ if you haven’t already. I love them and most of the artists I know feel the same.

      1. I’ve never tried painting on canvas, have always used paper. I paint with watercolors I make from local pigments, and didn’t think I could even do it on canvas. It’s worth trying, though, so thank you! I’ll have to see if I can find one with a smooth enough finish, or figure out how to make a smooth surface on it.

        1. Try looking into Golden artist color mediums. They have one to go on artist panels and canvases to receive watercolor and using their spray afterwards sets and protects the watercolors making them waterproof. They have great support people to help artists achieve the preferred results with their products. Give them a call. I’m sure they will help you out.

  5. I remind myself of the many stories about repeated rejection told by the most successful actors, musicians, business innovators, etc. who I have heard on talk shows. Virtually all of them faced rejection, some many times and some when seeking the most sought after opportunities. This reminds me that those who judge our work, including the most respected or carrier-controlling people, often do not recognize worthy talent, or they like/recognize good chocolate while I submit my sensational, but undiscovered, vanilla for their approval.

  6. I am in a very confused place right now. I have been in a number of galleries and done well. However, my 3 galleries have closed in the last 2 years. Before this, I lost several other galleries due to closing. I am left wondering what can I do to compensate for this dilemma.

    1. I’ve lost galleries to closures too and one to being sold to someone who did it think it nesessary to notify me when my work sold!!!
      I was not surprised to find out he’d done the same to several others.🥴

  7. LOL – I MUST be the only or biggest cynic on Jason’s forum on the many threads that exist. But – as is the bitter truth – cynics are MADE and not BORN.
    I hear more and more just how much % galleries charge their artists. Although I have no problem with that per se, the gallery MUST be professional and leave very few stones unturned in order to put their artists on the ladder rungs they strive to be on. I’ve heard of far too many so-called prestigious galleries who promise the earth but do very little in the shape of promotion.
    As I have said before, ALL galleries have the power to do just that, but fail dismally because they see their business as fast tracking to untold wealth.
    I have also said that artists’ mindset has to match galleries business ethos. If there’s a disconnect at the beginning – or during the tenure – things will never go well for either.
    Galleries sell the stuff they’ve been selling for years and rarely venture outside that. 99% have no stomach for anything new and exciting. Start knocking on doors with fresh outlooks on art – and you’ll quickly notice their gazes directed towards the exit doors.
    There’s a superb YouTube clip of Frank Zappa speaking about the old studio executives who would try new talent to see how it would pan out – and in many cases, it would work very well. Later A&R people would never venture outside their own comfort zone.
    If you have anything out of the box, walking into galleries is interesting because you’d see a whole gamut of expressions ranging from ‘A’ – halfway to ‘B’.
    Listen expressively to their submission rules whereby they will tell you nothing that you already know.
    A previous writer on this thread mentions the amount of rejections the biggest and best have received. J.K.Rowling bleats about her amount of rejections – which totaled about 17. Joseph Heller of ‘Catch 22’ garnered a great deal more, so there’s a disparity of rejections vs success already.
    The ONLY thing that will keep you fully alive is to weather these rejections based fully on freight of the new, and to remain fully convinced of one’s own worth. You can then look ‘m straight in the eye and tell them that you KNOW your path and KNOW which direction you’re destined for.
    I guarantee, they’ll be the first to blink.

  8. My harshest rejection came at the hands of a fellow artist “freind” who unbeknownst to me was chairman of the exhibition committee of a local arts center (where I had been very successful in the distant past). She and I had had a conversation a couple of years prior and whe remarked how strong my work was.
    So I submitted my work to the committee. There was no communication from the art center as to whether or not my submission had been received or reviewed. A couple of months later I got an email from her. She was very confused by my submission and it was difficult with so many other submission to spend time with mine. Make it simpler next time. (paraphrased but that was the gist). I only followed their guidelines. Nothing was added or excessive. I looked again at the portfolio. It seemed straightforward.
    I’ve since had other contacts with the artist. She seems still friendly and interested in how I am doing. I am wary.
    I’m generally OK wit rejection but that was something that seemed disingenuous and different. I’ve not kept up with the arts center as a result which is also OK.

  9. I was an illustrator for more than 35 years. The last 20 of those years were in children’s books. Nothing is worse then the world of kids’ books when it comes to developing a thick skin (there’s even a book written about it entitled, “It’s a Bunny Eat Bunny World”). Now that I am only painting I find myself submitting to juried shows to get my work seen since I do not yet have gallery representation. Many I get into. Some I don’t. I can blow off that rejection ten times easier than the rejection as a children’s author. Publishing gave me elephant skin. But querying galleries is a bit more daunting because it tends to be up close and personal. I haven’t really pursued that very far yet. I would love to hear from other artists how they made those initial approaches.

  10. My first rejection was from a top gallery in NM and my ninth grade boyfriend was the executive director. I had to send my paintings to the director and I sent my practice web site and digital port folio. Well, needless to say my childhood boyfriend called me and all I can say, was thank goodness I totally flubbed it with him. Along with Jason’s book Starving to Success I have learned a ton!
    In addition, one of my books received 35 rejections. It’s really not a big deal, your creating a partnership. If it doesn’t work out with one, it’s just not the right fit. I say, just like dating,…. you just say next. 🙂

    1. I’ve endured a few harsh rejections, but I’ve found that in most cases the gallerist is not only polite but encouraging… that makes it much easier, and I appreciate an honest assessment of how well my work fits for the gallery.

      As for the few that were rude – well, it only makes it clear to me that that that is not a gallery I’d want to show in anyway.

  11. A couple of months ago I applied to a cooperative gallery where I live. Each member has a job or jobs, sits in the gallery twice a month, attends a monthly meeting. Ahead of time I was told that jurying would be based on the artist’s work as well as how well they would fit into the type of structure offered. I have worked on art gallery committees, worked as an art teacher, have an art degree and recently won a prestigious award with a national art group. When I went to pick up my art samples the next day, I was told I had been rejected. The application committee chair did not phone me right away so I called the chair later. He told me that they overwhelmingly liked my work but didn’t like me. I was shocked. Of the 20 or so people in the room, I knew only 3 and, according to leaks, two of them spoke stridently against me, one stating that I might cause problems amongst the members of the cooperative. That is not my way. My work as a teacher has always been to create harmony. Apparently there were other generalities bandied about. Several people spoke on my behalf but the nasty impression had been left. To me this is character defamation as the other artists in the room do not know me and now they have a false impression of me that is destructive of my reputation. ? How long will these cast aspersions follow me? The following day I ran into one of the artists who could not meet my eyes; another was friendlier than she had ever been. Of course my application process won’t stop here but what is it? Professional jealousy? I have asked others who worked on committees with me if they had these perceptions of me and the response was negative.

  12. This blog hits my world in a timely fashion; I think you’ve given me permission to link to my blog, and I’m going to do that – thank you. If at any time you want me to *not* link to my blog, shoot me a message and I’ll gladly comply.

  13. The best advice I ever heard was, “Just keep moving”. If a rejection is personal or highly critical, it probably says more about that person and the day he or she is having than it does about you or your work. So, like Jason said, move on to plan b, c, d, e, f…..etc. There are always going to be galleries out there showing work that is less accomplished as well as more accomplished than what your currently doing. Sometimes that’ll be in the same gallery. So, being turned away should never be taken as an indictment of your work. It could be a matter of timing or a myriad of other factors. By all means try to keep the door open for making future contact. But then, just keep moving.

  14. I look at it this way. If you get accepted by a gallery it is because your work fits their brand or vision for the gallery, they like your work, they see it as skillfully done, they see you as talented, and think they can sell your work given their location and established clientele. If turned down it most likely it is because they see your work as not a match in one or more of these areas.

    Many artists think that gallery acceptance is primarily dependent on whether one has artistic talent, but this is a narrow view. Many artists are talented but never get acceptance because galleries just don’t see how they can market the work for all sorts of reasons. Moreover why consider being with a gallery if they cannot bring you sales.

    So approaching the right galleries is the first thing an artist must do which means an artist needs to thoroughly research potential galleries looking for the right fit.

  15. If you’re rejected, and they actually take a few minutes to email you back to let you know, yes or no, (and they say they like your work) consider resubmitting your work later. Things change.

    Also, ask the owner or director if they will recommend another gallery that might be a better fit for your work. When I was just starting out, I figured out I would just shoot for the top. Back when all the gallery owners were willing to look at walk-in submissions, I went right into a high-end gallery in Santa Fe, showed him a handful of photos of my work and a couple of my original paintings. The owner graciously told me that he liked my work, but that it wasn’t a fit for his gallery. My wife, my best spokesperson, asked if he knew of another gallery that might fit. And he proceeded to suggest a couple of other great galleries. I dropped that gallery owner’s name at the first one of the two, and the owner sat back in his chair and said, “I think I can sell these.” And he did!

    It’s been 27 years of great success in art sales – and not so great times, too – in and out of lots of wonderful galleries, and some not so wonderful. It hasn’t gotten any easier to approach the next gallery. In fact, it’s always excruciatingly hard. But I realize that the owners/directors have to think they can sell your work to their clients. And then, because it’s really all about business, if they don’t sell your work to their clients, it’s time to move on. No hurt feelings and no burnt bridges.

    But from the standpoint of an artist approaching galleries (using their stated protocol for submissions), it really would help me if the declining galleries would let you know, one way or the other, so you can go along to the next one.

    As far as I can see, thick skin only grows on rhinoceroses.

  16. What about galleries that don’t even give the courtesy of a “no” or any kind of rejection, after open solicitations to consider my work? Just crickets. Nothing. I find this happening to me surprisingly often. Am I out of place to find this rude? Is this typical of the gallery world? Meanwhile, I have set aside my artwork,, on behalf of possible gallery representation. How long is it reasonable to wait before I follow up with the gallery or show my set-aside work elsewhere?

    1. In the writing world, when I send a manuscript to a publisher, I’ll wait 6 weeks to hear back from them. You can also send to more than one at a time as long as you let them all know it’s a simultaneous submission. Then if one wants it, you’ll notify the others that it is no longer on the market. Publishers generally don’t like it when you do it that way though. They prefer to have exclusive previews and can often take months to respond yes or no. But when submitting to agents, it’s considered normal to submit to several at a time, with the same courtesy of letting the rest know if you’ve decided to work with one. I have no idea if it works the same way for art galleries or not. Maybe Jason will shed a bit of light on this.

  17. “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.”

    Guilty, guilty, guilty…

    It’s funny, I’ve written out several sentences and paragraphs here, going into why I’ve retreated back to the studio for so long after each new round of rejections, but reading what I’ve written I find that they’re all just excuses and I keep deleting back to those first three words I typed, “Guilty, guilty, guilty…”

    I think I need to stop at those three words, really let them sink in, and figure out what’s really stopping me.

    Thanks, Jason, for this proverbial slap in the face.

  18. Thanks Jason for one of the best blogs ever. I found a good gallery within an hour of where I lived that I really wanted to be in but made the mistake of showing up on a Saturday when the owner was very busy. When I finally introduced myself as an artist and not a collector we were off to a bad start. She was not looking to take on new artists at the time. I friended them on social media, started attending their opening receptions to get to know them and also got in a regional show they were hosting. It took a year but eventually the owner asked me to bring in some originals to look at and we signed a contract that day. Getting in a second gallery was much easier.

  19. Jason,

    Very sound advice! I have been in one of those rejection cycles for shows…. so annoying! I have just just moved back into my art career… meaning finding a gallery, creating strong work has been a constant. I found that the research on galleries that “fit” my style of watercolor was key. I paint in watercolor, but very abstract organic work… I had galleries suggest that buyers want “traditional” watercolors…. so NO. I said, well… not the gallery for me and moved on. I found a lovely contemporary art gallery, District Arts in Frederick MD. Perfect for my work. It is very hard to be rejected over and over, but it is also like dating….. you have to find the right match. When I get a rejection I up the efforts… every month I enter my work and try and build on the number of entries each month…. the number matters. If I swing only once and miss, game over. If I swing ten times…. odds are better. I think you just have to look at it as a numbers thing. Not an attack on your artist abilities. Thank you for a great pep talk!

  20. ‘Rejection’ is so not the right word, erase it from the Art world dictionary.. There are many reasons why artists are encouraged to maybe try other establishments and for the most its quality, It really should be irrelevant of what the picture / Sculpture portrays, if its quality, give the artist a break and try them out for 6 months.. My Gallery is always open for a 6 month stint but the work has to be of a certain standard, family and friends are a burden to the novice artist as they are for the most cooing and gurgling how wonderful the artist is when in actual fact they are tragically bad… The artist SHOULD know what level they are at and persue the gallerist with confidence.. I love it

  21. This is such a good post and a timely reminder to artists that being rejected by galleries is not necessarily a sign your work is bad. (The same with open calls – I know an artist who was rejected by one only to win the top prize at another the following year with the same painting!) So many factors come in to play. Here in the UK, generally figurative is sought after though there are a growing number of galleries which now exhibit abstract work. I’ve shown at international Biennales and last December at the Louvre but I realise my work does not generally fit the UK market though that is not to say it will never fit – tastes change all the time! Recently I’ve had interest from 2 UK galleries who have said they like the work (always a good sign) and to try again later in the year as their current schedule is full. I made quite a bit of effort with the Directors to contact them via email and also visiting their shows. It is always worth trying again if you get a friendly response and always worth cultivating connections across social media with these galleries (I connect via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and keep a blog), because, as one gallery owner said, ‘If I like your work, I may get in touch at any time if an opportunity suddenly opens. The thing is, don’t be discouraged or deflected from your own ‘voice,’ just keep making it better! Also, keep looking for galleries as new ones open.

  22. You have to realize that there are fewer and fewer galleries around than there used to be. I was born and raised in Carmel back in the 60’s, it was a mecca for art for years.
    First there was the recent recession, and now there are other things that people spend money that are taking priority now. The cost of living for many people is high. Let’s face it, art is expensive, more and more people fail to see the value because so many other things in everyday life are consuming so much money
    With all this said, art galleries now can choose to be very picky about who they bring in. To them it’s all about sales. They will tend to choose someone with a full art degree and a list of awards over someone who self taught and does not have all that even though their work may be as good or better.
    There are hundreds more artist than there is wall space in galleries. Some galleries can get hit up 10 times a day by starving artists. They might already have a two year waiting list of shows booked. Nothing against you or your work, there just isn’t room. Some galleries are very professional and will have a printed informational sheet with an outline of what they expect in work, photos, quality, materials, quantity of pieces, etc. that they hand artists who come in (with a scheduled appointment). They may keep you on file if they like your work. Others are more fly by the seat of their pants and how they feel that day.
    Also, don’t go into a gallery on a busy weekend when they have the most foot traffic. Nothing more annoying than a artist hitting you up when you are busy with customers. Grab a card and email them later with a proposal.
    Be careful what you wish for. Do your own research on galleries before you desperately jump in because you finally got in somewhere. There are plenty of galleries struggling and many artists have lost money and work from galleries who couldn’t pay their bills. Art is an excruciatingly tough business and many people with dreams of owning a gallery aren’t exactly the best business people.
    And if all else fails, get a group of other artist together and open your own coop gallery. This seems to be a popular way to go these days. Each person pays a portion of the rent/overhead and sits on assigned days so there is no employee overhead. If you think you’re that good and your stuff will set the world on fire go for it. You will see very quickly what gallery owners go through.

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