26 January 2012

Inspiration Thursday

January has been an emotional roller coaster for me. Lots of changes in my household, as my partner has a new job with a big commute, and lots of ups and downs in my art practice. I'm in the sloggy middle with my current George Washington print, a time when I tend to lose heart, and I've also accumulated more rejection letters this month than any other month I can remember. The trouble with rejection letters is that they just appear whenever they appear. You don't have time to get prepared and steel yourself, so if you happen to be having a low-energy day a rejection letter/email can throw you into a rapid downward spiral.

I recently encountered an artist on Twitter named Diedra Krieger who created an art piece about rejection letters called "Building Backbones." In this performance work, artists were invited to submit rejection letters from grant or residency applications, or exhibition submissions. The letters were then projected and attendees read them aloud in unison. I watched a video of the event on Krieger's site and found that the unison reading gave the letters both gravity and a tinge of absurdity. For me it also mingled with a liturgical feeling that probably comes from my many years as a youth attending mainstream Protestant churches. Chanting rejection letters with others seems as good a way as any of transforming the pain of rejection into a source of power for building backbone.

Another way I've found to keep my spirits up is to hear from other artists how they keep on task. I've just started reading a book called The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield. Pressfield offers a strong, no nonsense, just-do-it approach to overcoming resistance in any art practice. A softer and more expansive book about work in general, not just art, is poet David Whyte's book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity. A friend of mine reminded me of it today, so I plan to re-read it after I finish the Pressfield book.

What I'm feeling today, having digested the latest rejection email, is that acceptances and rejections are not what it's about. Yes, pursuing opportunities for my artwork is part of my job. But that job is to find the opportunities and apply. Once I've sent my application, I've done my job, I've made my effort. Expecting anything in return is a waste of valuable energy, energy that should rightly be spent on making work. Making work is the point, and is my joy. I'm making a plan for a little letting-go ritual to do when I send out the next batch of applications -- something to remind me that once I mail them they aren't mine any more.

This morning I came across a video of Stephen Colbert interviewing Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air and I got another lift of inspiration from that. In the beginning of the interview, Terry Gross admits that her first job was teaching English and that she was in fact fired from that job after 6 months. Colbert says what we're all thinking: "Why did they fire Terry Gross??" "Because Terry Gross was a terrible teacher," she replies. I love that. Terry Gross got fired from her first job. She must have felt very bad at the time. But wow, look what happened. Here's the video -- enjoy!

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Leslie Moore said...

Thanks for sharing, Annie, both your insecurities and the Terry Gross interview. I'd never even seen a photo of Terry. Fun to see the video! I hope February brings you lots of acceptance letters.

Anonymous said...

I joined a rejection letter challenge and found that a good way to change my perspective on them. I write short stories and send them out and so the goal was to accumulate 25 rejection letters in a year and when the letters come I celebrate the fact that the story is then free to fly elsewhere.

Making it a goal rather than an outcome, turned it from something to commiserate to something to celebrate. Just a thought. I love your work.

mizu designs said...

It's that old buddhist idea about pain coming from our expectations, isn't it? Learning to let them go and just turning up each day to see what happens is the hard part. Keep being strong and thanks for the reading tips.

Annie B said...

- Leslie, isn't it fun to finally see Terry Gross? She's so tiny!
- Claire, thanks for leaving a comment. I love the idea of deciding to see how many rejection letters you can accumulate! Then you look forward to them, I imagine :)
- Kylie, yes, I think pretty much if it's a solution to working with pain then it's probably Buddhist! Ganbarimasu ne?

liz c said...

i did a piece, many, many years ago called rejection letter quilt. it was when i was applying for teaching jobs and just kept getting one rejection after another. I printed on top of the letters with transparent ink, cut up prints and sewed them all around the letters, like borders and then stitched them all together in a one column, they ran down the gallery wall and all across the floor. It was cathartic and liberating on the one hand, and also a little weird on the other. why was i keeping these things? why do we hold on to that which pains us? i think your letting go the minute your hope leaves your house is a good approach.

Tibi Chelcea said...

It's quite bad when rejection letters accumulate, but once that one acceptance comes, all those rejections will be erased. You're doing really good work, it's bound to come. Besides, I think you have a solo show coming up, which should focus your energies and might help ease the disappointment.

Annie B said...

Liz, I love the quilt! Transformation. I look forward to being in the business so long that I'll have enough rejection letters to run down a wall and across the floor. I have work to do! xo

betsy best-spadaro said...

Hi Annie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about rejection letters. Having received MANY rejection over the years, I've noticed, (happily) that I bounce back quicker each time; days of wallowing has evolved into maybe an hour or two. Still, it is difficult when they come at you rapid-fire. Just so you know, I think you're work is beautiful! Also, I love Stephen Pressfield's book and read it...often!