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 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

26 Comments

  1. It’s even more difficult to accept success. I remember once when someone said “I’ll buy it.” And I said “Really?” Maybe we need to learn how to accept gracefully when someone loves our work as much as we do!

  2. After being an illustrator and now a painter for over thirty years, criticism and rejection is not a problem for me. It’s part of the territory.
    What is annoying is when a curator or gallery representative can’t favor one with a reply email. This after telling one how to submit to the gallery via email.

    ‘Dear Mr. Angelini, we appreciate your inquiry to XYZ Gallery about representing you. We feel, however, that your work doesn’t fit our program at this time. Thank you for your interest.’

    How hard is that? There is no excuse for ignoring an artist’s inquiry. I think it is rude.

    1. Oh man, I SO connect with this comment! I’ve been reaching out, not to galleries but to interior designers and it’s not the “No’s” I can’t handle, it’s the ones where I get passed to a voicemail that never gets returned. Or the email that never gets replied to. Drives me nuts! How hard is “No, thanks”??

    2. SO true. Twenty some years ago I submitted some photos to the greeting card company AVANTI. They wrote back with a very encouraging note simply saying they were not looking at that time for the kind of images I sent them, but to keep trying, they liked the work itself. Being young and inexperienced, this didn’t crush me. Another time, I had applied for a job, followed through and called to see what the status was, and the “B” snapped ” If I had wanted you I would have called you!” She was a very young shop owner and , in hind sight, she hadn’t learned manners yet. At the time I was terribly hurt. Kudos to AVANTI!

    3. I have read this comment and all the responses to it and I could not agree more with all of them. When you don’t get a simple “no thanks” from a Gallery, it says more about the Gallery than the artist and is totally unprofessional and indicates poor business management. Galleries need artists as much as we need galleries.

  3. Many years ago I presented my work to two gallerys during the same day. About the same piece, one said he liked the bottom part and the other said she liked the top. Both made hard critics of the part they didn’t appreciate. I was glad I have seen both at the same day because I said to myself that I was not going to become a puppet which changes the way I make according to the opinions of each. Thank you I take your advise for having plan b, c…

  4. I too have faced rejection but also success. My work is inspired by patterns in nature that have a mathematical structure but I am not a mathematician.
    I am regularly invited to speak and publish at international mathematical conferences and also exhibit my work at university galleries. My educational background is an MFA and a PhD. in finding connections between mathematics, science and art. Yes I was a tenured unversity professor but decided to pursue my creative work in the visual arts. It is my passion.

    However, the commercial galleries that I have approached have told me that my work is too intellectual and that their clientele prefers subject matters with which they are familiar and are decorative in a room. They told me that they are in the business of selling and that their clients do not want to think about intellectual concepts when looking at an artwork
    The gallery with which I was affiliated is no longer in existence and I am now pursuing diverse venues.

  5. “It’s all Part of being in Show Business” What I have Found is it rarely has anything to do with talent but more to do with who you know or a connection you might have to the gallery. It is very counter intuitive. I have found the less desperate you are for Gallery Representation the more success you will have in finding it. That may be true with all things in life. Keep in mind that having a gallery represent you isn’t an end all as many galleries are not very good a selling artwork. it is very difficult to know if a gallery is able to sell artwork. If the gallery has an artist that sells a lot it may be that that artist’s work just about sells itself. It can be a mine field if you are represented by the wrong gallery as it ties up your work for a long time

  6. One rejections we hear all the time is, “We only carry local artists.” It seems many galleries ONLY show artists from their state or localized area, which is great to promote their artists—maybe we’re looking for love in all the wrong places!

    We live in the southeast US, but have portfolio of aerial photographs of the western US. They don’t get carried l here because they want to see “local” and they won’t carry them THERE because we’re NOT local!

  7. Artists do indeed need to develop thick skins. It’s not always about your work. It can be many things like: a gallery already has enough of a particular style or subject matter, the submitting artist’s work doesn’t fit with the gallery’s other art, they don’t feel it’s suitable for their clients, they have as many artists as they need and so on. And then there is preference. Each of us has our preferences, what I like another may not and that’s ok, galleries are entitled to their likes and dislikes too which really has nothing to do with us personally. Persistence, regular submitting and time are needed.

    One of the challenges for many artists is knowing when they are ready to begin approaching galleries. And that’s a different story and maybe a topic for another blog post. Although it’s probably here somewhere already.

  8. Hi Jason, In your lesson on approaching galleries… Follow up, 2-3-4-5-6 contacts. I don’t have time for that. Tell me no, but don’ ignore me. I have made follow up phone calls. They work. What happened to a polite email reply??? Are gallery owners too busy to reply?? The galleries that I have contacted replied with, no new artists, not the right fit or not the right price range. Finding galleries where my work would fit is really time consuming. Can’t wait to get back to making a wax for my next bronze. The road goes on forever, and so do gallery searches. Never know when you will get a hit. This sounds a bit like going fishing. Thick skin and patience.

  9. Thank you for this. The area I’m in is over saturated with artists and I’m on 7 different waiting lists to show at local galleries. I need to change my attitude and be appreciative that they love my stuff enough to show it, even if it’s going to be a year (or more) of a wait. I haven’t received rejections yet and I think I’d be crushed and the type to take it personally if I did. Love this article. Need to re-read it a few times to let it sink in.

  10. Rejection is part of being an artist whether it is representation by a gallery or appreciation of your skill … it comes with the job description. Yes, galleries can be dismissive, rude, even worse, ignore you. That comes with galleries being the lone sweet young thing in a horde of suitors. 🙂
    I’ve been in and out of galleries for decades. Good, bad, successful, indifferent … they do the best they can at the time and I won’t criticize any. However ….
    No gallery, no individual, no competition determines your success or failure. When you encounter an obstacle sidestep it. I like to think artist and gallery are codependent colleagues but at times the balance is skewered. To be coequal one has to be in the ball game and only so many players can participate … the roster can support only so many and regardless how talented some will never make it past the minor leagues. It’s life, it happens ….
    I’ve chosen a lone path at this stage of life and am comfortable with it. I am well aware reputation is rarely garnered individually but by the prestige of A-level galleries. One has to ask if galleries are investing in you as much as your work makes these galleries sought after by your work.
    Rejection is only rejection … that fact has no bearing on the artist. It is pure economics.

  11. 26 years ago (when I finally thought my work was ready to approach galleries), I went into the finest (high-end stuff) gallery in Santa Fe. The director graciously looked at the photos of my work and the two originals I then brought in and said that his wasn’t the gallery for me. But he went on to suggest two other galleries that might be a good fit. One of the two took my work! “I think I can sell these,” he said, and he sold a bunch of them. These days it’s mostly about email contacts. If you do get that contact who actually emails or calls you back, but says no, ask that director/owner if they know of another good suspect for you. Or, if they say they’re full but like your work, wait a while and try again. It’s all business. We need good galleries that promote our work, give us fair placement on the walls, pay on time, etc. And they really need good, productive, consistent artists.

  12. Thanks for this article. I just enlarge and printed it. I will be placing on my desks. So I can be careful, how I do things. Over the years I have been rejected by some galleries I thought would welcome my work. As a result, I started to exhibit and sell my works independently. At this time, I am getting ready to open an art gallery, here in Harlem, NY. The moment the word got out, I am being bombarded with artists seeking exhibiting opportunity. The truth is, it is impossible to actually provide all these artist an opportunity to show. It’s a responsibility I was not ready for. Hope I can be more humane.

  13. I suppose I am retreating to my studio to stay focussed on my art so as not to be overtly influenced in a negative manner. I have no difficulty with hearing criticism but I must fight not to give up on what I am trying to do and say in my art . Finding art galleries willing to mentor and promote an unknown artist in my part of the world is a challenge for sure….

  14. I submitted my portfolio (at their suggestion ) to a well known gallery that I’ve admired for several years. They emailed me, excited to tell me that they had accepted me as an artist and asked what pieces I had available for the gallery and for a spring show. I emailed the images they requested and waited, and waited, and waited. I finally contacted them to ask if there was an issue with the spring show. I was then informed that someone else in the gallery had changed their mind, saying my “painting style was too unique”. Now they were having a back and forth as to my art being accepted.
    Two managers in the same gallery having a totally different reaction to the same work.

    All I coud do was thank them for their time, let them figure out who is in charge of running the gallery, and move on. My attitude has always been that I want my art where it is truly wanted. If the gallery is excited about my art they will be excited to promoted it.
    From writers with 100 submissions hoping to get one “maybe” (if they are lucky) to actors with hundreds of auditions before they get that first call, welcome to the arts! A gallery’s choice of work is as personal as our very own likes and dislikes of books, movies, and art. Nothing personal against me and what I paint, just personal preferences on their part.

    Shortly after that interesting experience I submitted my work to a (juried) three month show. Not an easy show to get into. I know several artists that have numerous rejections from them. Ego a little bit bruised, after dealing with the gallery, I was ready for a “your style is too unique” letter. Instead I just got a packet welcoming me to the show.
    It is not personal. It is ok to be disappointed and feel a little bit bruised, all natural human reactions to rejection. Key is to keep creating (use that rejection to fuel your growth as an artist) and to keep looking for that show or gallery that has a true connection to your work. They are out there.

  15. I think you have to look closely at who and what the gallery is showing. Can you visualize your art with these other artists in a group show? Or would your work look totally out of sorts there. Try and get into the aesthetic of the gallery to save yourself time and wasted energy. His customers will be followers of his taste. Keep that in mind as that will give you more of a sense of reality with this project.

  16. Walking into a gallery and looking around is the best way to see if you think your work might fit. I’ve done it many times and many times love the gallery but know it is not right for some reason… and many times it is a gut reaction. I don’t think I have ever sent an email or letter or called a gallery before visiting.

    I have attended many openings at galleries I like and enjoy looking and talking to the artists and also the owners. I was in three small regional galleries but was wanting a higher tier gallery and felt ready. I have a local one that I attended their shows, even bought a couple of small pieces I loved. At one of the openings, one of the owners said to me when talking, “why haven’t you submitted to our gallery? We know your work and would like for you to do so.” I was pleased and we planned a day for me to take work in. I took about four to five oil paintings and four to five soft pastels. After the three sisters (owners) looked while I walked around the gallery, they said they wanted them all. They also said they rarely take pastel paintings because most artists don’t know how to frame them, but mine were framed well and if I would bring them in framed they would love to carry them. They are also a very good frame shop, but didn’t want to frame them. Honestly, I like framing my own work. They are also allowed to remove the frame if a client wants something else. I have been represented by them for over five years and still enjoy them.

    Since then I have been accepted into a couple more regional ones. Also one out West (in Sedona AZ) were I was plein air painting for a month that did wonderfully until they succumbed to the economy about five years ago. Bummer on that one.

    As someone above said, I did get a rejection after being asked to submit… and with the two lines of basically thank you, but not what looking for … what was up with that?

    Thick skin, and respect for their wishes … both good traits to have in our quiver! Then… move on and continue, keep learning and progressing.

  17. I am embarrassed to say that I submitted work to a prestigious Gallery in Toronto before my work was ready. I had been painting only a few years. The woman in charge of selection sent me a hand written note that was the kindest and most gentle note of refusal that I was more impressed with her note than being upset withthe rejection.A few years later I joined a co-op Gallery for 7 years and had sold out shows. Unfortunately the Gallery closed after 2009.Then went on to join other Canadians with an agent in France and showed in Paris Salon National des Beaux Arts for 6 years as well as other galleries in France and won awards.Recently I submitted my work to a local gallery in a small town and was denied membership.Go figure!

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