Rejection stings. It’s like a buzzing plump bee pricking stinger deep into skin and soaring away without caring about inflicted damage.
Times have been turbulent, a year fresh from graduating college, after receiving MFA.
I faced many, many “no” letters. I wasn’t a good fit for various art shows, residencies, fellowships, and retreats in both art and writing categories. I admit, tears came. I cried so hard that painful headaches came on. In order to feel better, I slept tons, greedily consumed chocolate, listened to the sappiest songs (The Smiths on repeat), and binged on romantic things, living vicariously through women who were concerned about dates and lipsticks matching outfits.
Life passes by with roaring speed of light. Former classmates receive entrance into exhibitions across the country and gather honorary rewards along the way. “No” notifications fill my inbox, waiting clickbait piling up like a mountain. Watered eyes can barely finish these missives, instead discarding without fully reading beyond, “Dear Applicant,” “Thank you for applying,” and the dreadful, “We had over this many application.” For a moment, pencil falters, paintbrush stops moving, and fingers at the keyboard suffer impediment, all feelings failure bring under treacherous wings. Questions arise. Instead of considering that jurors have specific aesthetics that my work didn’t meet, my abilities as an artist and writer are put on trial. This vulnerability, this inexplicable sadness often threatens to dismantle my creativity, desiring to stop the making that drives my heart and soul.
By powerful grace, I found strength to continue creating. I have to.
The faucet cannot turn off. I know that I am meant to be an artist. I cannot resist drawing. I could fight the urgent need for days. In the end, I cave. I cave in to the feel of the pencil between my fingers, the compulsion to render braids and afros on a brown face means the world. Partly, it’s working at the museum that quenches my thirst, the sight of paintings that tempt my desire to draw shapes and forms.
I am now drawing from inspirations of daily sight watching. Philadelphia has a mecca of fashionable people walking around. It happens at the most unexpected times. Often, I don’t carry a sketchbook around. Yet my memory is sharper than a dagger tip.
My pop culture obsession webs itself so intricately into drawing and painting as well. Everyone knows I love Frida Kahlo. I draw her all the time. I also, however, enjoy employing other female artists, especially Harlem Renaissance she-ro Augusta Savage and influential contemporary painters like Faith Ringgold and Amy Sherald. I haven’t painted in a year. These two latter drawings are the beginnings of remedying that horrific situation. I should be painting every single day.
Last night, at the opening, I met Gerald Silva, the juror, who not only loved my work, he wished all three pieces had gotten in.
“I had no room,” he said, regrettably.
Here, I thought that “keep your mouth shut” wasn’t pleasing enough.
Still, the night gets better: I was asked to have a solo exhibition! A solo exhibition– in Philadelphia? I suppose we start somewhere. This just may be the place.
Not to say that the art life isn’t filled with more negatives than positives. It always will be. At least, for most of us. We creative beings will continue to face rejection until our hourglass sifts its final grains of sand. I’m applying for a few more things to wrap up the year. I hope to bear more fruit. For now, I’ll revel in the beautiful bits offered. Eventually, crumbs become a meal.