Yesterday, I received an email: “I began my journey at the University of Toledo in Fine Art. Lacking confidence, I switched to Art Education. I felt I couldn’t take the rejection from galleries and shows and what it takes to be a real artist. I just wanted to paint beautiful things — I wasn’t looking for angst or meaning or whatever it is that the experts say makes art. I actually won a scholarship for ‘student with the most promising portfolio’ but, nevertheless, my work wasn’t accepted into the annual student show. I was defeated. I didn’t pick up a brush for seven years. This year I started again — one small painting a day. Suddenly people are showing interest and I’m invited into shows. I had almost given up in despair because I was petrified by rejection — maybe I still am. How does someone get past that?”
A crisis of confidence happens more often in art school than when folks work on their own. The teaching environment, for many reasons, has the ability to destabilize and bring out fears like the fear of rejection. Not surprisingly, the lone worker is often better able to focus and build an image of self-worth. While the private studio can be a place of self-delusion and misguided progress, it is the freer environment. Artists need private ego-force to thrive.
You can’t blame teachers, and you don’t want to blame yourself. There is someone you can blame — his name is Buggg. Buggg is an incredibly ugly humanoid monster with long spikey wattles hanging from his misshapen face. He’s been with you from when you were a kid. There’s a Buggg that hangs out with all of us. He lurks behind you, walks with you, sleeps with you. His sole aim is to see that you don’t realize your dreams.
At art school your Buggg grew very big and strong. The seven years mentioned was the time it took to knock him down to size. You did it by making those small paintings. Buggg doesn’t like to see those paintings because they put him in his place. Keep making art and your Buggg will grow small and inactive. When you have made a lot more paintings, your Buggg will be quite stiff and you will be no longer petrified.
PS: “Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells.” (Steven Pressfield)
Esoterica: Buggg also wants us to procrastinate, use soporifics, be destructive and to sabotage ourselves. He wants us to fear rather than embrace. He wants us to criticize rather than encourage. He wants us to see evil where there is good and he wants us to demonize others. He wants us to be neurotic and paranoid rather than trusting. He wants us to hate rather than love. Buggg is more than an art problem, he is a menace to all mankind. By knowing about him we are better able to beat him.
This letter was originally published as “Petrified by rejection” on August 2, 2011.