Thursday, April 9, 2015

Accepting Rejection/Rejecting Acceptance

When I read the Martian Chronicles, I did it thinking that it is one of the most famous books in the English language, so I better have read it. It was an imperative undertaking rather than an anticipated delight. That attitude lasted half way through the first page, which is so beautifully written that I fell in love with Ray Bradbury right then.
Many people don’t know that aside from his brilliant science fiction works (like The Martian Chronicles and Farenheit 451) Bradbury also wrote a good deal about writing, and I’ve always found his words inspiring. Today I came across a quote from him that made me stop and think. Talking about the creative life, he said,
“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.”
The quote put me in mind of my aesthetic journey as artist and teacher. I was a very unsophisticated art student from a blue collar family. I lacked the understanding needed to determine good work from bad work, or art from saccharin imagery. My instructors had the difficult task of teaching me that while reproducing images resembling greeting card illustrations might win praise from family, such work would prevent me from becoming an artist. I remember some embarrassing moments, but I still consider that to have been one of the most important lessons of my life. Not only could I not seek praise from my family, I had to question anything that elicited praise. If my mother said, “Oh, that’s pretty”, I knew it wasn’t art.
I didn’t stop wanting praise, of course, I just shifted the target audience. Eventually, (and this took a couple of years) when I looked at my work, I could see the influence of certain teachers, and I knew then that the work wasn’t completely mine because at its core was my desire to receive praise. It didn’t matter that the source of that praise was a sophisticated professor, I had to reach a place where I rejected that acceptance, too.
Even today, I see the seesaw effect of outside praise and acceptance in my work and that of my students. Most of us need acknowledgement, but it must come with mutual respect and without coercive ideological or emotional pressure. I love dialog with colleagues whose work, knowledge, and understanding stems from a committed period of personal struggle. I know they’ll be as tough in their evaluation of my work, as they are in theirs. I belong to a crit group where everyone’s work is different. One person creates work with cut paper elements, one is a figurative artist, one focuses on landscapes in watercolors, and another is a sculptor working in clay. Our dialog is rooted in knowledge, experience, and mutual respect. We ask important questions and make unique observations.
If I submit work to a gallery, and it is rejected, I’m stuck in the first half of Bradbury’s statement: accepting rejection. I always hope to learn something from rejection, but frankly, it’s been most valuable to know that years of accumulated rejections have proved my undying commitment to the work. Reading Bradbury, in fact, I realized that I accept rejection so much that I presume it, and frequently stop myself from submitting work. That assures me that I’m creating truthfully without influence from the saleable marketplace, but, obviously, I’m also protecting myself from more rejection. (Not something I’m proud of.)

Creative people are tightrope walkers, constantly fighting to stay in balance, living in the real world, and true to ourselves. I’d love to hear how Bradbury’s quote resonated in your life.
           *My painting above is titled:     "Whisper"     24" x 24" Acrylic on Canvas © 2005