On Rejection

By Carolyn Edlund


The other day I received a rejection, and it wasn’t pretty. I was passed over, dismissed, shot down. Ouch.

Any creative person who has put their work out into the world knows this feeling well. Many of us develop a thick skin, and take it in stride – a good thing. It’s always a reminder, though, that we have to keep moving and not give up.

I am also in the unenviable position of having to send some rejections. Featured artist submissions just closed, and even though I cut the window of time from a month to a week to reduce the number, my inbox is awash in messages from artists who would like to be featured, and want to get some press and publicity for their work. Many of them won’t be featured, simply because space is so limited.


I love emerging artists; those artists whose work is amazing and gorgeous and skillful, and those newer artists who are more inexperienced and still working on their style and direction and portfolio. In many ways I respect and admire them even more, because they are doing what it takes to show up even though they risk rejection all the time and have to struggle even more to get some traction.

“The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”


The gift we receive from rejection is that we learn far more from it than we do from success. Sometimes we learn that we really do have the resilience to go out and try again, to improve and hone our work and our presentation and set ourselves up for success in our careers. Along the way we find out what doesn’t work, which is really valuable to know even when it hurts.

Emerging artists who are showing up are doing so even though many times they are emotionally tied to their work, and rejection impacts their self-image. Even seasoned professionals who are confident in themselves feel a sting when they are turned down. Learning not to take rejection personally is a process. And letting go of it, moving on and being persistent is mastery of ourselves and our futures.



  1. thank you for a very timely post!

  2. Hi Carolyn-
    I appreciate you pointing out “the gift we receive from rejection”. True – we can learn from the bad or unpleasant in life. Good reminder*

  3. Well, your article is a good reminder of the healthiest way to view rejection. Though you did leave out the lovely rationalization angle — if they didn’t want me, it can’t be a good show! (said with humor). Thanks for this upbeat reminder…

  4. Perfect timing on this one! And such an important topic.

    I just got rejected from a show dealing with democracy. Funny, most of my work is highly charged political work. What stings was the form letter with no personalization and filled with the standardized cliches, “Dear Applicant… we regret to inform you…” (really? I doubt it.)

    Did I take it personal? Nope. I know my work either resonates with the viewer or it doesn’t. It’s often about how well the work fits with what a juror or writer is looking to achieve.

    It’s okay either way. My “wins” and why are what is important.

    What did I take away from this latest rejection? That when it’s my turn to do the rejecting, to take note of the little things like actually using technology to place the applicants name in the salutation, to avoid the standard cliches when generating a form letter for large response, and to be open to explaining why a work was rejected when asked.

    It really is a process, a practice of persistence.

    • Terri, I think your maturity stems from a lot of experience – and having been rejected before 😉

      This reminds me of another point I like to make to those who are selling their work and suffering rejection from buyers. We have the power to choose our customers, we are not just at the mercy of whomever will buy. Set your sites on what you want and don’t accept less.

      And success is the best revenge.

  5. Thanks Carolyn! : )

    You are so right, we do choose our customers, our market. Having the audacity to do so is empowering.

    I look at rejection and resistance as a sign of doing something right. Ha ha!

    (Success is indeed the best revenge.)

  6. My favorite saying is:
    If you aren’t being rejected, you’re not trying hard enough!

    • What a great outlook – I love it! It’s not that difficult if you expect that you won’t always succeed. Even Babe Ruth struck out twice as many times as he hit home runs.

  7. “The only real failure in life is the failure to try.”

    — I like that =)

  8. Thank you very much for your article. I am a fairly new to juried competitions (I am a woodturner). I can relate very well to your advice. I was rejected at the first juried show I applied to in my area. The reason given was that my woodturnings were not art. I was a bit disheartened by their comment, but accepted that this was their decision and I moved on. My woodturning mentor (and now best friend) gave me great advice prior to this occurrence: “Get back on the horse and ride”.

    Since then I have been accepted to several other juried shows with no rejections. I guess those shows felt my turnings were art. I didn’t give up or let that first rejection get to me. So far, they have not been higher end shows, but I hope someday I will attain the skills to apply to those.

    But for now… onward and upward.

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