Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Art Of Rejection

If my Mother taught me anything, it is that life isn’t fair.  I know you probably just read that, rolled your eyes and began to consider hitting the “back” button.  The last thing you need is some preachy blog entry to remind you of this kind of thing.  I agree.  It’s just an opening line.  Stick with me here.

This year, I got squeezed out of two conventions that I’d been regularly showing at: New York Comic Con and, just recently, Illuxcon.  In both cases, it was explained to me that demand for the number of slots was just too great, and that there simply was no room for me.

That this bothers me should go without saying.  The fact is, while I understand that such decisions aren’t personal, they often feel like they are.  It is very difficult to be left on the sidelines while almost every one of your friends and peers get to show off their wares.  The feelings involved are not unlike being the last kid chosen for a team in gym class.  Put simply, it stings.

When faced with rejection, you tend to immediately seek to try to understand the reasons behind it.  Was it because I’m not good enough?  Is it a political decision?  Did I say or do something wrong?  Has my personal hygiene gotten in the way?  Questions like this run through your head and the pain tends to turn to anger pretty quickly.  Anger that gets directed either at yourself for being inadequate in some way, or directed at those who made the decisions that brought on the situation to begin with.

Whether or not those questions have any validity in the long term depends on the circumstances.  In the short term, however, such questions are moot.  The answers do not change the situation (my Mother’s lesson rears its head).  There will always be time down the road for analysis and analysis is always better done when you’ve got a clear head.  So, the first thing you have to do is come to terms with where you’re at.  Once you’ve done that, it’s all about figuring out what to do.

I’m not saying this is easy, mind you.  Sure I can neatly sum those steps up in just two sentences, but how to actually get your mind to that state of acceptance varies wildly from person to person.  Some folks might just shrug it off.  Others might have to find some way to vent the pain and anger through exercise or crying into their pillow.  Still others just need some time alone, or need a distraction to get their mind off of things for a while.  You see, I can’t really say how you get to the point where you can begin planning your next move rationally.  The important thing is to find a way to get there at all.

For me, being excluded from the conventions in question resulted in the following decision: do I suck it up and go to the convention or do I take my toys and go home?  In New York Comic Con’s case, it was a simple answer.  They had free badges for professionals, and the convention itself was a mere subway ride away.  I got to hang out and chat with my friends and have a laugh or two without a whole lot of time or money invested, and at the end of the day had a good time despite the rejection.

Next year’s Illuxcon is a tougher decision — not because it’s a more bitter pill to swallow, but because of the financial state I’m in.  If nothing else, I want to go and support my brothers and sisters in the field.  After all, they have supported me in so many ways, and if my going could encourage them even a little it seems like a worthy way to spend my time.  On top of that, it’s a blast!  Being in a room full of illustrators is a nice reminder that you’re not alone in the grander, meta scheme of things.  It’s a reminder that everyone’s at least as crazy as you.  It’s a good feeling.

But, as luck would have it, the decision to go has to be made sooner rather than later, and I’m currently at a point where I need to be super aware of where my money is going and how much I have to play with.  Right now, it’s not much.

So, naturally (or unnaturally as the case may be), a new fear starts to kick in.  If I don’t go, will people perceive me as a petty jerk?  Will they talk smack about me behind my back?  For me and my part, I have to let that fear go.  Everyone has to make the right decisions for themselves.  If these decisions cause folks to think lesser of you, so be it.  You have to do what you have to do under the circumstances you are in at the time.  You can’t carry that weight.  If they feel that way, and it results in getting snubbed again then it would seem you dodged a bullet, no?

The decisions you make in the face of rejection are never easy ones, but what I’d like to stress is that it’s important to at least try and take the high road.  I could have spent the last day writing nasty emails to Illuxcon’s organizers and raising a big stink.  I didn’t.  Even if I wanted to, it wouldn’t do me any good and would damage any chances I might have in the future.  Instead I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, then painting to keep my mind off of it, and doing laundry (that last one is mostly because we just got a new washer and drier and things had piled up).  Then it was all about whether or not to go, and now it’s mostly about whether of not I even can.

Anyway, when rejected, it’s important to tread cautiously and not do anything rash.  Don’t lash out or become confrontational.  The reactions you get from such actions will not be the kind you want, I assure you.  At best you will be shut out further, at worst you will permanently damage your reputation.  The best thing you can do is find a way to keep your cool (at least publicly), and buy yourself some time to process things.

One last thing to consider is that the folks on the other end are people, too.  In regards to my own predicament, the organizers who had to make the decisions that resulted in my not making the cut didn’t do it lightly and had a difficult time even deciding that they needed to decide.  No one wants to leave people out.  Okay, maybe they want to leave them out over the personal hygiene thing — but apart from that, they don’t want to do it.  They have feelings, too.  They feel bad about it — maybe not as bad as you might feel as the rejected party, but that’s life.  And if my Mother taught anything, it’s that life isn’t fair.


  1. I'm really disappointed that you're not going to be exhibiting at illuxcon next year, but on the other hand, maybe I'll get to buy you that beer & pick your brain more about all things artistic if you do decide to go? For me, I think the hardest part of rejection is just restraining myself from making assumptions about why the person did or said what they did or said. I've found that no one else is as good at hurting my feelings as I am. Anyway, for what it's worth, one of the highlights of Illuxcon for me was getting to just chat with you about your art and how you go about it. Don't underestimate how much of a positive impact you have on some of us aspiring artists. Truth be told, your perspective and insights helped me hone my own and they've played a part in my decision to adjust my academic plans for the future (and for the better) in order to really get serious about my art, so thanks for that. Illuxcon was great and fun and very educational, but I only discovered its existence recently. I was inspired to look for such things in the world when I was younger, ripping open my new pack of Magic cards and being dazzled by the incredibly cool art, tickled that I was holding tangible proof in my hands that perhaps there were others out there in the world, maybe like me, who find the rendering of all things fantastic as magical as I do? You give hope, sir, and in turn, I hope that you never abandon The Quest. Now go forth, and conquer. <:)

  2. I don't have anywhere near the perspective you have on this, but I can imagine. And imagining that really bites.

    But I've had plenty of experience with rejection generally. And if I were in your shoes, I'd handle it by cursing the shadowy overlords who are obviously ruling the AFA (along with FIFA, the Italian parliament, and Starbucks).

    Curse you, shadowy overlords!

    Then I'd pick up and move on. The last time fresh opportunity knocked for someone just sitting by the side of the road was back in 1224, and opportunity knocked so hard that the guy fell in a bog. He's still there. Poor schmuck.

  3. I, for one, hope you show up. But it's understandable and completely defensible if you don't. No one that I have met so far would think otherwise. Well written, and very insightful ...

  4. @Tom - Wow. I am humbled by your kind words. Thanks for saying all that. I never know if any of what I have to say is valuable or not, and it's good to hear that you found it to be. I wish the best of luck to you.

    @Sean - Picking up and moving on is just what I'm doing. I've got a bunch of stuff that I'm hoping will shock and awe folks when they see it (I just have to wait for release dates to pass). The best thing I can do is keep working and not take it to heart - which is pretty hard at times, admittedly. If nothing else, rejection is a great motivator.

    @Ryan - I'm still crunching numbers on my first quarter budget. The problem is that I'll be paying taxes in two states and I honestly don't have any idea how hard I'm going to be hit. If things time out in a way where I find out I have money while there are still tickets available, then I'll likely be there. Believe it or not, it really is a number thing. I honestly had no idea I'd have to be making these kind of decisions so far out from a con. I haven't even made up my mind on GenCon yet and that's all the way in August. Planning for November is almost too far for me.

  5. Steven, this was a really good piece of writing about a really tough subject. I think you've done a great job breaking down the cycle of emotions most of us go through after getting the news we're not going to be included in something.

    I had a similar experience in 2009 when I got rejected from both Spectrum and Expose in the same week (after already having been published the year prior, too). I think I actually cried. Thankfully, that crestfallen feeling morphed over time into an "I'll show them!" sort of motivation, and that's where I encourage people to try and take it, once the "aw, hell!" wears off. It's a bitterly painful reminder that no matter where you are in your career there's plenty of room to grow.

    If it means anything, Pat and Jeannie were utterly distraught over the fact that they had to make cuts from Illuxcon this year. That con is definitely experiencing some growing pains, and we're really fortunate to have gotten involved with it in its earliest years. I really hope you come. Cost-wise it's much cheaper than IMC or NYCC, especially if you don't have a table, and you'll be free to go to the lectures and wander around more. Even without the networking part, I'd still go just to hang out with everyone. Whatever you decide, there's no way any of us would think you were a jerk. We'd probably assume you were busy painting!

  6. Cynthia,

    Thanks for your comment. It's a tough subject, indeed, and I really enjoyed the challenge of addressing it. The soar loser in is all wants to lash out and it's a hard beast to cage, for some. I thought my opinions and experience might be encouraging to one or two folks out there. Maybe not. Who knows?

    Getting cut, not making the grade, losing a competition — whatever the case may be — is always painful. Artists take these things to heart. They can't help but do so. To do what we do, you have to pour a little love and put a bit of yourself into every piece. It's the nature of the beast. On one hand, it means loving what you do, on the other hand it leaves you open to the slings and arrows of criticism and rejection. It sucks, but deal with these things each of us must (something you clearly understand).

    On this occasion, the very night I was rejected from Illuxcon, its importance for me was thrown into very sharp contrast. I don't want to go into details, but suffice it to say that no matter how big stuff like this seems, there is always something far worse that trumps it and reveals it to be the unimportant trifle it actually is.

    Nevertheless, Pat and Jeannie undoubtedly lost sleep over the decisions they had to make. They're only human (hence that last paragraph). The wrangling and leg work they do is herculean at best, but if it wasn't for these efforts there would be no con in the first place, and what a shame that would be.



I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.