The Importance of Rejection

Photo by Elizabeth A. Baker

Photo by Elizabeth A. Baker

Part of being a working artist is continually submitting applications and proposals for various festivals, gigs, tours, press, residencies, commissions, and auditioning for other opportunities.

Composers submit to countless calls for scores and performers send innumerable inquires to programmers every year. The music world is incredibly small... three degrees of separation is a reality. This is where one has to form a certain resilience, because rejection is a healthy part of this life.

A few months ago, I sat in during the Creative Pinellas review panel for the Emerging Artist Grant, I saw the hurt and devastation on the faces of young artists as the panel gave them criticism; some did not take the review process well. I had a vitriol reaction and wanted desperately to scream, "You are getting reasons as to why your score is coming out a certain way, please be grateful!" In the big bad world, for those of us that make our living as freelancers, rejection often comes without reasons that we can tangibly consider. When reasons are offered it is like a ballast in rough seas, we have something to shoot towards; whether or not we decide to follow the suggestions of the reviewers, we are given an insight to how other people outside of our circle view our work.

Rejection serves another, perhaps more important purpose. It keeps our heads level. It pounds into our minds, humility. It keeps our egos in check. It makes us grateful for what we do receive, and prevents feelings of entitlement.

Often these days, little pockets form within communities... there are the favorites of local programmers and what happens is over-saturation of the marketplace. New voices feel stifled and hopeless because people don't think about calling those outside of their immediate circle.

And what happens when people forget to reach outside of their immediate circle?

In Florida there have been several complaints about experimental music events, in which female identifying and non-binary individuals are not included... events that are largely dominated by cisgender white men. While some of the organizing individuals likely do have ill-intent in their hearts, many men organizing these ensembles or performances are simply forgetting to reach outside of their circles; they don't think about the importance of inclusivity because all their "bros" look the same. It is hard to see the need for diversity, if you aren't surrounded by diversity.

The other fallout of rejection is quality. A mentor of mine recently coined the term "proficient amateurs." There are many of these in our communities and they serve an important purpose, to promote the fact that all people should have participation in the arts at some level. The problem with the boundless surfeit of proficient amateurs, particularly in less metropolitan areas, is that people are unable to discern the difference between a skilled amateur, and a professional that has truly spent time honing their craft and committing themselves to a career in the arts. Why is the bar of excellence so high in NYC, Berlin, San Francisco, Paris, and other strongholds of professional music/art? Because there is an intense level of competition, that means everyone is dealing with rejection and everyone is aware that they are on some level replaceable. This culture, while intensely stressful, causes one to either push themselves to reach and exceed the bar set locally, or to form their own artistic identity separate and perhaps in response to the stressors around them.

The general point is that rejection, when viewed through positive eyes, pushes us to be better artists and better people. Rejection is not a complete shutdown of our dreams, but rather inspiration to conquer barriers, including the ones within ourselves.