Slide Show - Images (mostly) from The Illustrated History of Painting


Monday, April 26, 2010


Artist’s blogs are typically about career success - a place to sport about with new scalps, for others to admire or resent.

But a life in the arts is, more often than not, informed by career failure and rejection than it is by momentary triumph. At least my art-life.

When files were paper I used to collect letters of rejection in a file folder. I was constantly sending out and getting back slides, proposals, invites, and applications for public/private $$ -. That fat-fucker-of-a-file-folder visually represented, to me at least, the absurd lengths I was willing to go to stay in the game. Not that I had other viable options.

Young artists of my generation had about as much chance of‘ making it in the artworld as a trench-stationed ‘doughboy’ (World War 1 American infantryman) had of reaching German lines, across no-mans land, through withering machine-gun fire. Little to none.
Se al vie.

At some point in my campaign of attrition – my one idea was to wear the buggers down – I determined to cease passively accepting rejection letters and to instead turn the tables and treat the typed-turn-downs as proposals and pitches from the arts administrative drones that had sent me the rejection boilerplate in the first place.

Thus I’d write back to the author of rejection, using the same formulaic, diplomatic language that had originally couched a slap-down in cotton-wool word-wooze.
For example:

Dear __________

Thank you for your thoughtfully composed letter of rejection. We receive countless, similarly worded, letters of rejection and treat each of them equitably, on a case-by-case basis, when meeting to discuss whether to accept or turn them down. Considering the time it took the committee to adequately review this season’s many submitted rejections, we thank you for your patience.

This year was an exceptional one. We received a great many more qualified and interesting form-letters of rejection than is usual. So many, in fact, that rejection letters, which would normally make the cut - for inclusion in our rejection form-letter archive - cannot be accommodated. Unfortunately yours was among the group of qualified letters that we regretfully decline and return.

Please be appraised that our rejection of your rejection letter in no way implies a lack of professional accomplishment in that area of your professional practice. Nor does the committee question the compositional innovation you employed when selecting rejection-letter boilerplate for your writing.

Your rejection letter was as floridly diplomatic and euphemistic as the best of the submitted rejections.

We encourage you to submit another letter of rejection in next year’s round of rejections. And wish you well in your professional pursuits throughout the year.

Respectfully __________

There’s heaps to be learned – don’t you just hate learning-a-lesson rationalizers & justifiers – from rejection. The rejection of a project can be telling. It can blow away low-lying institutional smoke. Haze providing cover for hidden agendas and ideological/political decision-making.

For example - Marie Claire and I have, of course, encountered rejection while peddling Nature Morte to various venues. You win some you lose some.

A well known, ‘artist run initiative’ on K Road reportedly had three rancorous group meetings to decide our fate. The final winning argument against hosting Nature Morte? It had a painting in it. It seems the painting portion of the tableau was feared as a sort of infectious agent. Or better yet a two-dimensional Trojan horse filled with enemy ideas that might (in the dark of night) overrun and ideologically sack the joint.

In another instance the principals of an exhibition space connected to an Auckland tertiary institution – a gallery that positions itself as experimental – felt that because Nature Morte was touring (like Cat Stevens for god’s sake) that the work wasn’t experimental or “developmental”. Perhaps if we’d designed the piece to 'respond to the space', 'critique the institution', or pretend to be touring because it was about nomadism (a theme dejour) our show would have made a better CV stocking-stuffer for those whose professional careers are tied to the gallery’s program of exhibition. After all, they didn’t want to get the ‘stank’ of a touring show on ‘em.

In another case of rejection (or non-rejection, as the case may be) I made a proposal - don’t you just adore the unquestioned ubiquity of the one-size-fits-all term proposal? - in response to High Street Project’s open call for exhibition pitches.

My pitch stated quite simply that I be allowed to do whatever I wished at HSP, without pre-definition from me or proscription from HSP.

I made my pitch to Shannon ( Christchurch’s Delphic answer to Alfred Jarry) the newest HSP power-player. I make a little joke here. HSP which postures as THE cutting-edge (tres un bourgeoisie) art space in CCH has yet to get back to me. I’ll now use this small forum to ask again for my rejection letter. I want my rejection letter ……………….. please Shannon.

Take a moment, if you will, if you’ve nothing better to do, to puzzle out the possible reasons my offer wasn’t taken up (aside from the speculative fact of my work’s relative merits or demerits) and if not, why oh why then no rejection letter?

I’d venture they (HSPers) were concerned about reputation, the landlord (by definition bourgeoisie concerns) and ultimately their viability as an institution and continuance as a going concern – a concern from which the principals (as minor as they are) benefit in tangible and intangible ways. As is usual, and understandable, HSP as an arts institution privileged its survival over an art project that might (or might not) bear seeds of its undoing.

There’s something, oh dear, to be learned from failure and rejection.

Yours Truly,