What Happens When All the Artists Leave?

It’s an interesting question.  Can any formerly abuzz creative conurbation survive the loss of its artists and its most creative people?  I suspect London is about to find out.  I read this article this morning:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/01/creative-young-brits-quit-london-affordable-berlin

In the article, the author cites anecdotal evidence (quite a lot of it) of creative, productive people leaving London, for good, preferring to move to Berlin.  The reasons cited are the financial pressures, working life pressures, long hours, the high cost of housing, the low quality of life and poor standard of living, the homogenisation and gentrification of the city and the fact that people wanting to live the London lifestyle are pricing out the people that actually create the circumstances the real estate brochures rave about.

In essence, the root of the problem is that the privileged, rentier class has become way too extractive of the class that actually does the work and creates that artistic buzz.  The goose that lays the golden eggs is being strangled.

Why beat yourself to a pulp, work-wise, to merely exist in a tiny, grotty, 10 square metre flat in South East London, when you can work less intensely, doing more of what you want to do with your life and find a place to live that is 100 square metres, for roughly the same money and far less effort?  The calculus is unarguable.

Some people think, “Good riddance to the artists and creatives.”  Others barely notice or think it won’t matter.  We’ll see.

There is a skein of thought that runs through modern British life that seeks to correct and straighten.  Liberty, it is thought, must be curtailed.  The creatives think otherwise.  They know it is the lifeblood of the vitality of a city.  Constraining freedom, while building row upon row of identikit, globalised, chain stores and high-rise, glass-fronted apartments, with marble foyers, has all the charm of a corrective institution and none of the character of a creative foment.

Who predicted that the creative uprising would actually be a case of the creative classes rising up off their over-priced office furniture or IKEA sofas and simply leaving the place?  It’s a revolution, Jim, but not as we know it.  So far, nobody seems to be doing anything practical to retain them or lure them back.  We’re haemorrhaging the very source of the ideas that will be precious and needed, to fuel the future economy and nobody bats an eyelid.

In my view, that attractive lifestyle buzz that seems to be the reason that the cost of living in London has risen so inexorably might live on for even a century, in the myths and legends promulgated by tourist advertisements and estate agent descriptions, long after it has ceased to exist in actuality.  The flywheel effect will continue and people will continue to pretend there is an artistic, creative buzz in the capital, long after the artists have left.  However, the facts are that an entire industry will have been hollowed out.  I saw this happen in electronic product design, a few decades ago.

Some predict that London will become, ultimately, an expensive ghost town.  There will be no night life to speak of, no interesting, diverse communities to explore and to stimulate the curious, few creative enterprises and no critical mass of innovation and fresh thinking.

What I know about ghost towns, though, is that there is no such thing as an expensive one.  Ghost towns are abandoned.  Whatever there was of value, in a ghost town, becomes utterly worthless.  Everything is discarded and discounted.  Nobody wants to be there, at any price.  Is that the ultimate fate of Britain’s capital?

Berlin should know.  Seventy years ago, it was a city that was purged of its most creative and cutting edge artists.  I guess that’s why it’s cheap to live in, now.

We shall see.  We live in interesting times.

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Sensitive Souls in a Brutal World

The song that most accurately portrays what it must be like to be a highly sensitive soul, trying to survive in a brutal, uncaring world, for me, is Don McLean’s brilliant “Vincent”.  I commend the lyrics and music to you, if you are unfamiliar with the tune.  The artist described in this song, Vincent Van Gogh, and all people like him, are the people that break my heart and make me sad.  Gentle souls and sensitive artists are all too often crushed underfoot, by the insensitive, the grasping, the selfish, the ruthless, the insensate, the sadistically mean and by people that lack any semblance of empathy or compassion.  To endure a life of pain, giving the gifts of your artistic talents, generously and freely, while receiving nothing but derision, ridicule, ignorance and aggressive condemnation, in return, must be worse than a descent into Hell.

In the 1970s, I remember there was a popular band, who received accolades and adulation, seemingly everywhere they went.  The lead singer was a charismatic, larger than life character, who bestrode the stage like a colossus, yet inside, it turns out, he was a very sensitive soul who wanted nothing more than to sing and make people happy.  When the band broke up, he suddenly found himself met with resentment, rejection and indifference.  Confusingly, to him, he was singing just as well as he always had, tried just as hard to please audiences and worked as hard as anybody to re-establish himself and his new bands, yet he was roundly discarded and dismissed by previously loyal audiences.  He had had his time in the sun and was put out to pasture.  “Next!”

Being disorientated by the sudden change of fortune, drained of all energy, from years of gruelling touring and feeling lost and powerless to reverse the situation, no matter how hard he tried, he descended, sadly, into insanity.  Forgetting to eat or sleep, he would disappear for days at a time, wandering aimlessly.  Nobody knew where he was.  Few cared.  He was bound to die an early death.  The cause of this obvious decline and degeneration was undoubtedly the hostility and indifference of the people he wanted to please most.  Eventually, friends and family abandoned him and he found himself utterly alone, in a psychiatric asylum.  The psychiatrist noted his delusional and confused state, writing that the patient absurdly claimed to have had thirteen gold records.  To the psychiatrist, this was a pure fantasy.  In fact, it was true.

Fortunately, the story has a partially happy ending, in that this singer found his way back into the world, gradually, with setbacks along the way and never quite his old self.  They called it “rehabilitation”, but he has a clearer, more honest view of what it’s like to suffer a fall from fame than practically anybody.  There was nothing wrong with his art and he still sings beautifully, but that wasn’t enough to protect him from the brutality of the barbarous world.

His story is one of giving and giving and giving, putting out the very best he had of himself, but finding this met with cold, hard, cruel reactions.  Finally, he realised he had given so much, he hadn’t retained anything at all for himself.  While he was a big earner to agents and managers, he was pushed hard to bring home more and more money.  Nobody cared about the price he paid or the toll it took on him.  He was just a walking wallet, to all those people that sought to control him.  Being eager to please, he let them.  His life was not his own.  He was milked dry and glibly tossed aside, when no longer able to draw in the crowds, as he once had.  That sort of thing would have a tendency to unbalance anyone’s state of mind, I feel.

The sensitive, gentle souls who want to please, by giving their art generously, straight from their heart, are frequently threatened, pressured and squeezed, until they exhaust themselves.  All they want, in return, is to be loved, but that is precisely what they are denied.

After a while, you can see how easily the abused artist might begin to feel little other than betrayal, abandonment, like a total, abject failure and powerless to change the reactions of other people to them.  Paranoia can set in, when you wake up, one day and realise that you have been taken advantage of, by people that you loved and trusted, who didn’t have any concern about your well-being at all.  It’s a fair question to ask: who else might want to inflict such harm on you and who might already be in the process of doing so?  Far from this being a delusional thought process, it’s evidence-based.  It’s a rational, realistic response to sustained, unrelenting, merciless abuse.  The facts are undeniable, if excruciatingly painful.

Our society tells these sensitive people to toughen up, in order to withstand the blows, but to do so would be a betrayal of their very essence, as human beings and quite frankly, why should they change to withstand the terrible behaviour of other people toward them?  They are being treated in an unacceptable way, yet are told they must learn to accept it.  No sane person could remain so, when confronted with that stark, blatant contradiction; constantly and coercively.

Countless other artists and musicians, poets and writers, lovers and pacifists have suffered madness or premature deaths, due to the despair they endure at the hands of their fellow human beings, behaving despicably.  The body count is alarming and yet the death toll goes unremarked, never investigated and unpunished.  Those that inflict the most harm walk away, scot free, presumably to inflict the same, or worse, harm on the next gentle soul they find.

It’s regrettable, but true, that we live amongst legions of those that are ruthlessly competitive, bullying, heartless and domineering; whose credo is conquest and who seek to vanquish those they consider to be weak, comprehensively.  It’s not enough to win.  They have to make sure the loser feels the loss acutely.

The human propensity to crush the gentlest, most sensitive creatures among us, who are often the kindest, sweetest, most loving and generous of people, as well as exquisite artists, dismays me utterly.  They’re obliterated like bugs under a steel-capped boot.  The sensitive people are much easier to break than other people.  We should treat them more gently, to protect them from harm.  More than that, we should give them what they seek, instead of denying them, as if the act of denial is some sort of advantageous leverage and control mechanism.

They deserve love.

Do we have it in our hearts to love them?

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Playing the Right Note

Here is some wisdom, which sounds Zen, perhaps a touch impractical, airy and even blindingly obvious, but which is very important, for any musician, to learn, internalise and follow.

The business of playing music, especially improvised music, is all about playing the notes you want to play.  You should always play the notes you want to play, and not any other notes.

For example, if you are one of those guitar players that learn to play scales and licks and just trot them out, mechanically, habitually and without thinking, you really aren’t playing.  Why?  Because you’re playing the notes that your muscle memory wants to play, not the notes you would choose consciously, to convey meaning.  You’re just a bundle of nervous twitches and autonomic reactions.  It’s not a very musical way to play and your notes are quite involuntary.  Many musicians play this way.  They’re all tricks and repetition, but no soul.

It’s better to think about the note you would ideally play next, to create a melody or harmony and then to play it, positively and with confidence.  If your mind is wandering, you won’t be able to accomplish this.  It takes concentration and mental agility, to do it at speed.  You’re effectively composing the music in your head, just before you articulate it, through your hands, on your instrument.

This exhortation to only play the music you want to play leads to some interesting questions:

  • If you knew the note you were about to play was wrong, why did you play it?
  • If it wasn’t going to fit the chord, the harmony, the mode or the feel of the music you wanted to make, why did you let that one note slip through and articulate it?
  • If you left the notes you played to chance or to habit, why didn’t you weed out the notes you didn’t really want to play? Did you really want to play them all?
  • If you weren’t sure you knew the note you were about to play was precisely the one you wanted to play, why did you play that note?
  • If you wanted to play a note, to support the music, or melody, or mood you were trying to create, but hesitated and didn’t, why didn’t you play it?
  • If you could hear the music you wanted to play, in your head, but you played something other than that, why did you do that?

These are not incidental questions.  These are at the core of what it means to be an improvisational musician.  For one thing, this musical mindfulness ensures that you become a very accurate player, in the sense that everything you play never sounds like an accidental fluff, a wrong note or a mistake.  Your playing sounds confident, because it is confident.  Why would you hesitate to play exactly what you wanted to play?  You wouldn’t.  Your articulation would always sound authoritative, if you only played what you wanted to play.  Even your enharmonic or off key moments will sound musical, in context, if you play them deliberately, because you want to play them.

What you play has to be played with purpose and you have to play only what you wanted to play.  Then, no matter how your gig, or recording session, or day goes, you can still say that you spent the time playing exactly what you wanted to play.  At the end of a musical career, if you can honestly say you played exactly what you wanted to play, who can argue with you about whether or not your musical career was successful?  If people criticise you for not playing what they wanted to hear, that’s ok, because you played what you wanted them to hear.

Knowing the rules of musical theory and composition helps shape the music you want to play, but it doesn’t constrain it.  You are free to break all the rules, if that’s the music you want to play.  On the other hand, if the music you want to play needs to evoke those conventional forms in some way, or pay homage to other genres or composers, then knowing the rules will help you to play only the notes you want to play.

If you hear somebody else play something that you want to play, then you should learn to play it.  If you think that piece of information should form a part of what you play, because you want it to be, then it is perfectly acceptable to incorporate it into your own style.  Play what you want to play.

This, I believe, is the key to musical artistry.  If you can apply your taste, discernment and musical imagination to creating only the music you want to hear and want others to hear, then connect that to your ability to articulate each note, without error or hesitation, I believe this is the key to translating your musical ideas into a sonic reality that people can hear and enjoy.

This is also why the slavish practice of scales and arpeggios, while good exercise, doesn’t advance you as a musical artist.  What counts is the information content.  Playing what you hear within yourself and playing that faithfully, articulately and with authority, is what matters.

The right note is the note you wanted to play.  Only play the music you want to play.  The rest is a waste of your time, as a musician.  Nobody wants to hear you play music you don’t want to play.  The only thing people will pay to hear you play is the music you want to make.

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The Obedient Artist

This manifesto was inspired by a photograph of some graffiti, which I saw recently, on Facebook:

  • I will make only the art that I think will please other people.
  • I will change my art for anybody that demands that I do so.
  • I will give away my best work for free.
  • I will not stand in opposition to the theft of my work.
  • I will not expect to be valued or have my work seen as valuable.
  • I will unwaveringly and happily hand the lion’s share of any money my art does make to agents, shysters and middle men.
  • I will sincerely believe the judgement and damnation of every casual critic.
  • I will believe that everything I produce is worse than everybody else’s art.
  • I will resist change and make everything as conventionally as I possibly can.
  • I will refuse to entertain new ideas or learn new skills and techniques.
  • I will not complain that artists are considered to be second class citizens in society.
  • I will accept that being an artist is not a real job and that art is a waste of time.
  • I will fervently believe that the world is made by the moneyed and powerful, not by those that design and create.
  • I will tell everybody that things are just the way they are, through my art.
  • I will accept being cheated, deceived and taken advantage of, as simply the price you pay for wanting to live a creative life.
  • I will accept my art being corrupted and subverted, by business interests, for their own ends.
  • I will continue to suppress my own creative expression in order to earn my right to live on the planet on which I was born.
  • I will accept being swindled and robbed, in order to get exposure, as an artist.
  • I will make art only when I have permission to make it and only the art I have permission to make.
  • I will use my artistic talents to brainwash people into consuming endlessly and to crave false needs.
  • I will not use my art to stand up to authority or to criticise those in charge.
  • I will not share my work with anybody.
  • I will accept poverty, penury and starvation, because I am an artist.
  • I will let other people, who spend their days in other occupations, treat me with contempt.
  • I will not create a vision of a better future for all, and instead uphold the status quo as the best and only alternative available.
  • I will work longer hours for less acceptance, reward and encouragement.
  • I will accept the arbitrary and wanton destruction of my creations, by anybody that chooses to destroy them, on a whim.
  • I will use my artistic talents to help the media lie convincingly to the people and to blatantly manipulate and bamboozle them.
  • I will use my art to make the wealthiest wealthier.
  • I will accept that I have no inalienable right to be who I am or to express myself in an authentic way.
  • I will not use my art to protest about anything.
  • I will continue to believe I am powerless and that my ability to change anything is impossible.
  • I will continue to value war, waste, violence, censorship and coercion, above artistic freedom.
  • I will organise my artistic life around being an economically viable unit, at all times.
  • I will keep my unconventional, unorthodox ideas to myself and keep my mouth shut.
  • I will accept the corruption of the art establishment as the final arbiter of my artistic worth.
  • I will support whatever is popular, even though it might not be right.
  • I will sacrifice my originality and integrity to make art for anybody that will pay me any pittance at all.
  • I will keep my precious knowledge to myself and will not generously share it.
  • I will keep whoever grants me tenure, or patronage, in power.
  • I will be the artist that non-artists want me to be.

Is this you?

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Artists of Last Resort

Marvellous, isn’t it?  Artists spend much of their time having to justify their work as “real work” and must be prepared to defend their prices against anybody with a so-called “real job”, at a moment’s notice.  The very rich and well-heeled, in particular, love to assert that artists and their art are relatively worthless, up until the moment that their country piles and vast landed estates come under threat of bankruptcy.  At that instant, a miraculous Damascene conversion takes place.

Suddenly, it seems like a very good idea to hold a music or arts festival on their land, where everybody will come to listen to live bands, poets, watch the dancers perform and generally be entertained.  Presumably, this is so that people will come to their otherwise unremarkable property at all and spend their money liberally on the various concessions that they lay on.  The draw card is the artists.  That seems to be the only viable way to bring enough money in to save the land owner’s precarious cash flow situation.

So, how come artists have considerable value, when it comes to saving the homes and estates of the dubiously well-heeled and indefensibly privileged, but are worthless otherwise?

Which is it?

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Articulation

When it comes down to it, what a lot of artists spend most of their time doing is in trying to become more articulate.  What I mean by that is they hone their craft skills and their manual dexterity, so that what they convey, through their works of art, is clear, distinct, coherent, nuanced and subtle.  They want their work to communicate their dynamics, grace and fluency.  In essence, what they are trying to achieve is to effortlessly convey intended meaning precisely.

The word has its origins in the idea of a jointed limb, being used with deftness and smooth, strong motions.  As such, being articulate means that, as an artist, you are capable of conveying finely nuanced viewpoints.

It’s an interesting question to ask yourself: “What am I most articulate in?”  When do you reach that pinnacle of fine motor movement, at which point thought, intention and the result you produce blend into one, seamless, perfect surface of pure artistic expression?

As a guitar player, I am quite articulate and I am also reasonably articulate as a music producer.  It never seems like I am fluid enough, but in absolute terms, I cannot complain about a lack of expressive eloquence, in truth.  When I paint, I now feel that I am beginning to master colours and light, but I feel less accomplished when it comes to those very fine brush strokes; so essential to rendering eyes, noses, mouths and hands with delicacy.  I have a way to go there.  My hands just don’t want to do what my brain wants them to do.  As a writer, I find that I can usually craft interesting sentences and story structures and I tend to choose just the right words.  The words usually come easily, too, which is another sign of fluency.

Of course, there are a great many areas of artistic expression in which I would like to achieve fluency and to be articulate, but I realise that I am far from my goal.  My works, in those areas, feel clumsy, crude, coarse and unrepresentative of the ideas I am trying to convey.  My technique lets me down badly.  It feels almost painful to pursue those avenues, because the results do not come, no matter how hard I feel I work at it.  It’s also harder to work at these things, when the rewards are so scant.  You are constantly tempted to use the articulate techniques you have already mastered, instead of trying to perfect those which are still just awful.

The frustration all artists must confront and wrestle with is that we all start out clumsy and inarticulate.  Consequently, we must constantly struggle to refine our skills and techniques, striving for fluency, so that we can express our ideas at the speed of thought, through our chosen medium.  No matter how articulate we become, it somehow never seems fine enough.  We always feel that there is more subtly of expression possible and that we can convey even more finely nuanced ideas.

Somehow, the more articulate we become, as artists, the more we are able to use our works to convey emotion and to be emotionally affective. I knew a very clever man who studied the relationship between artistic gesture and emotion; in a science he dubbed “Sentics”.  It seemed to me that he had scratched the surface of a very important, but little-studied aspect of the human condition.  How is it, exactly, that we take our feelings and place them onto the canvas, or embed them into a melody?  Why is it that viewers and listeners can tune into those mechanical translations and still receive the emotional content that the artist placed within them?  Why should the placement of words on a page excite and arouse our interest?

A bigger question, as an artist, is why we even bother.  Why do we try so hard to convey our ideas, through our works of art, to other people, in a way that will move and engage them?  I claim that this is an existential question.  Let me explain.

I dissent, often.  I disagree profoundly with ideas that most people accept as articles of orthodox faith, without question.  The ideas in my head are largely at odds with the commonly agreed notions that people tacitly assume.  I don’t share their mass hallucination.  This is across a wide range of subjects and matters of importance to life.  I just don’t agree with much that I am obliged to comply with and obey.  It could be argued that this is because I adhere to a hallucination of my own, but I feel that at least some of my ideas are based on observable, evidential truth.  I am equally certain that this is not true for the more common mass hallucination adhered to by most people.

Given that my internal life is so at odds with the real world I must live in and try to survive, what can I do?  I can make art.  I can try to convey my unconventional ideas through my work, so that I have the chance of sharing what is inside me with other people, with whom it might resonate.  For that reason, being articulate is so important.  If I break the chain of emotional conveyance, then the art is for nothing.  If I cannot communicate what lies inside my mind, then I cease to exist in any meaningful way as an individual.  I become a true cog in a machine not of my design.  That’s why I strive constantly to become more articulate.

Having your say is at the very heart of what is meant by liberty.  Being able to gently influence and shape the world, for the better, while existing in it as you best see fit, is what it means to be free.  Yet, I live in a world that increasingly tells you to shut up, obey, conform, listen to the authorities and do as you are told.  We are also told there is no alternative.  That which should be gentle nudges and suggestions for better ways of living your life, which you are free to accept and embrace, or discard and ignore, as you choose, have instead become brutal, ugly, blunt-force traumas on your psyche, delivered by self-appointed authorities.  Their reality is whatever they can get away with.  Their mandates are delivered with menaces and threats, via the expedient of violence, organised on an industrial scale, with a jack boot upon your throat.

Remaining relatively inarticulate, in the face of this assault on humanity, when I need to be very articulate indeed, frankly distresses me.  There is so much that needs to be said.  There are so many people who need to be reached emotionally, because they are locked into a reality that numbs them to the concerns of other people.  They dream a narcotic set of beliefs that are, in truth, leading all of us to the brink of oblivion.  The ideas they uphold are toxic to a thriving planet, populated by free, happy beings, at liberty and peace.  Yet they won’t wake up.  These people will not be snapped out of their stupor and reconnect with humanity.  They proceed, zombie-like, to despoil and destroy, harm and hamper, justifying their actions on the basis of their poisonous, propagandised mass hallucinations.

I must make art to share my point of view and to make tangible, ideas that are mere abstractions in my imagination.  Better is possible.  We have not exhausted, or honestly tried, all the alternative ways of organising human society, consistent with surviving and thriving.  Our ways of existing, today, let the vast majority of us down.  In short, the prevailing ideas of how to run an economy, how to organise a society and how to empower individuals, have let us down badly and the evidence is abundant.  Yet, most people choose to ignore what is plain and unarguable.  I live amongst the wilfully inarticulate and I disagree with the orthodoxy, on most things.  I don’t think increasing wealth inequality will deliver a good life for all earthlings.  I sincerely doubt that our authorities know what they are doing, have any wisdom whatsoever, can be trusted and are not hell bent on destruction.  Scientists are, in many cases, far from objective.  I think people are largely blinded by greed, selfishness, short-termism and an extractive mindset that requires violent conquest.  I’m surrounded by people who think (other) people can’t be trusted to think for themselves, so they impose elaborate systems of thought control, led by people in command who…actually can’t be trusted to think for themselves?  It makes no sense at all, to me.

Articulation represents my personal battle against alienation and invisibility.  It is my desperate, last ditch attempt to try to expose possibilities that most haven’t considered or even suspected.  I don’t have a monopoly on wisdom either, but I grow weary of people in charge who make the claim that they do.  It cannot be true, yet society is largely organised around the assumption that it is.  If that is not representative of collective insanity, I can’t think of a more lucid example.

Your articulation is the super power you most fear losing and it is one of the first to go, if you don’t cherish, honour, exercise, hone and use it.  Comedian and actor Billy Connolly recently announced that he has been forced to give up the banjo, a beloved instrument that was one of his most articulate means of self-expression, because Parkinson’s disease has so badly affected his left hand.  I can think of few things sadder.  This man has been able to reach thousands of people emotionally and change minds, through laughter, gentle ridicule and joy.  What a shining example.

We should all be so articulate.

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12 Bad Reponses to Artistic Rejection

Rejection sucks.  It hurts.  It really hurts a lot.  When you take the risk of presenting something you made, which you took pride in and which is an expression of your best efforts and the best thing you were capable of producing at that moment, it can sting when your work is cruelly rebuffed.  Often, the rejection is cursory, insouciant and dismissive, as if no effort was made to consider its finer qualities.  Sometimes the rejection feels like the vindictive expression of pure prejudice, or the result of arbitrary irrationality.  At other times, the rejection is just plain nasty.  The feelings of indignity, injustice and shame can be overwhelming.  It feels like it’s not just your work that’s being discarded as worthless; it’s you.

We feel indignity because we have offered a gift that has not been appreciated.  It has been thrown back in our faces and our generosity derided.  We feel injustice because the rejection seems to be based on nothing much more than a whim.  Other artists present their work and it is accepted, but as hard as you may have worked to produce your work, it has been rejected.  That feels very unfair.  We feel shame because the rejection is a veiled accusation that we are imposters, as artists.  If we took our art and ourselves seriously, then we feel like the rejection repudiates our quiet claims to competency and adequacy.  The shame comes from feeling like we’re just not quite good enough.

Learning to deal with rejection is a survival skill and one of the hardest aspects of being an artist, or somebody creative, in my opinion.  It’s certainly something that many artists, me included, perpetually struggle with.  If they don’t want my art; what should happen next?  How you deal with rejection determines whether or not it ultimately harms you, or helps you to grow.  It might do a little of both.  If you self-identify with your art in any significant way, you can feel like an utter failure.

Some Bad Responses to Rejection:

There are many bad, self-destructive responses to rejection, which, it has to be said, most of us, at one time or another, have fallen into the trap of pursuing.  They all compound the pain of rejection:

  1. Losing Yourself

One of the most common of self-destructive responses to rejection is losing your sense of self.  You lose self-confidence and stop believing in yourself.  Everything you thought was right and stable about you, as an artist, has just been given the big thumbs down.  The temptation is to believe that you’re no good, you can’t succeed, and that you can’t do what you think you can.  You also conclude that it will always be this way.  That’s a bleak place to reach.  There’s also not much objective evidence for it.  The actual truth is that you can succeed, when things go right for you.  What will prevent that, though, is losing faith in your ability to succeed one day.

  1. Losing the Joy

After a rejection, the business of making art can take on an overly earnest, do-or-die quality, where every work you make just has to succeed, or it will merely confirm what the rejecters have already asserted.  The stakes are high.  All the joy and carefree fun of making art is suddenly replaced by a fight-to-the-death mentality, whereby you can’t derive any pleasure from making your art, any more, for fear of slipping up and making something else worthy only of rejection.  What was once pleasurable and even escapist now feels like a dreary death march.  Often, you only go through the motions, rather than immersing yourself in your creative activities completely.  The thrill is gone.

  1. Losing Sleep

The rejection can play on your thoughts so much, that you lose your peace of mind.  Pretty soon, you’re losing sleep over it and beginning to fall apart; physically, emotionally and spiritually.  You start to resemble a burnt out, hollowed out shell of an artist, not the vibrant creative being you really are.  Letting your health suffer, because of a rejection, isn’t very rational, but it is very common.  The damage inflicted can take decades to undo, if it can ever really be undone.  Repeated rejections, resulting in an assault on the artist’s health, can be devastating and ultimately, career limiting.  Be very careful about slipping down this slope.  It’s hard to climb back up from.

  1. Dulling the Pain

Many artists self-medicate, to dull the pain.  Substance abuse and art have been frequent bedfellows, for a long time.  In an attempt to not feel the keen edge of rejection, many supreme aesthetes seek to anaesthetise themselves, as self-protection against the pain.  It rarely works, long term.  All the self-medication does is divorce the artist from their feelings, which is where their best art used to come from.  That, again, increases the chances of future rejection.  If you fear the pain of rejection, as an artist, it makes no sense at all to increase the odds of rejection, by turning off your ability to feel anything.  How will you make art that affects the feelings of other people, if you can’t feel anything yourself?

  1. Picking at the Sores

Humans have a strange habit.  If something hurts us, we tend to focus on it overly.  We pick at the wounds, before they have healed and in so doing, deepen and worsen them.  Dwelling on the rejection simply causes us to experience it, anew, repeatedly.  How does that help us?  Replaying the moments, in your life, when you felt worst, simply guarantees that you’ll feel that bad, over and over again, without relief.  It’s self flagellation.  Bad enough to have experienced the pain of rejection, but replaying it in high-resolution, slow-motion detail, daily just reminds us of the pain, without actually removing the hurt, or doing anything about coping with the pain.

  1. Inhibition

The stiffness and control, including your worries about failing and being rejected again, will show abundantly in your future work.  It will be constrained and lack any risks or joie de vivre.  In short, you will clamp down so hard on your natural ability and agility, there will be so little freedom of expression, that your work will look contrived, pained and tense.  This, ironically, increases the chances of future rejection.

  1. Obsessing on the Rejecters

You can find yourself obsessing on those that have rejected your art, rather than seeking out and finding people that might love what you do.  You can withdraw from the world, to lick your wounds, instead of doing what you should be doing, which is looking for people that won’t reject your work.  You might not have the courage to put your art in front of people again.  You might have lost the courage to even create new work.  The rejecters might be the only thing you can see, in your mind’s eye, when you contemplate making something new and sharing it with the world.

  1. Chasing Second Guesses

In the mistaken belief that everything you previously knew about making your art is now wrong, you can find yourself second-guessing your rejecters.  You’ll try everything to reshape your art into something that might please them.  It never does.  Second-guessing your rejecters, abandoning your integrity, as an artist, results in pastiches that please nobody.  You are what you are.  Pretending to be somebody else, through your art, is easily detected as fraudulent.  People tend to reject fraudulent art.

  1. Overcompensating

In an attempt to make up for the rejection, you may find yourself desperately overworking yourself, determined to prove the detractors wrong.  You might find yourself trying so hard that you are in danger of killing yourself in doing so.  It’s far worse if what you are overworking yourself at is in trying to be something you are not, while second guessing the rejecters.  Killing yourself to compensate for rejection is not a course of action that ends well.  Over-thinking your art is similar.  It’s just another species of overcompensation.

  1. Amplifying the Rejection

While a single rejection can be devastating, it is only a data set of one.  There is a tendency to focus on and amplify that single rejection, while simultaneously glossing over and minimising the acceptances of your art from other people.  Somehow, the rejection seems more important than anything else.  It’s easy to think that a single rejection reflects the opinion of everyone, or at least the majority.  That might not be so at all and typically isn’t.

  1. Distrusting the Accepters

If you get into the mind set of believing fervently in the judgements of the rejecters, it becomes harder to believe the affirmations of accepters.  You tend to ignore them, believing them to be wrong, or not having the same insight as the rejecters, who you think must be right.  The distrust of people that like your art can turn them into people that turn away.

  1. Isolation

As an artist, you might deal with rejection by shutting yourself away and withdrawing.  You stop sharing your work with others and keep it to yourself.  Unfortunately, while self-protective to some degree, it results in loneliness and isolation.  What you have denied yourself is the joy of sharing your work with those that appreciate it.  That’s a very sad outcome.

On a practical level, though, rejection of your art can mean a loss of earnings, as an artist.  Are there some better responses to rejection, which do not compound the pain of the rejection and which might stem the loss of earnings, due to rejection?

Some Better Responses to Rejection

Some better, more constructive responses to artistic rejection are:

  1. Make Better Art

Keep doing what you’re doing, improving according to your own schedule.  You can continue to improve and make better art, according to your own standards, irrespective of what the detractors say.  One day, you’ll satisfy somebody, somewhere.  Your art will be good enough, if you keep caring about it and keep developing, as an artist.  A rejection does not have to mean the end of the road.

  1. It’s Not You; It’s Them

It’s important to realise that the rejection may just be their situation, rather than a judgement of you.  They might not be in circumstances or a head space to be accepting of your art.  Often, their expression of rejection is saying something deep about them, on a personal level, rather than about you.  You don’t know what internal battles are being fought in the minds of rejecters. All you can feel is their outward expression of their inner war, which is the rejection.  It’s important to discount their rejection on the grounds that it isn’t the whole truth about the situation and it often hides something the rejecter doesn’t want you to be aware of.  Rejection can be a place to hide as much for the rejecter as for the rejected who is handling it badly.

  1. Find Your Audience

Don’t give up the search.  Until you have presented your art to everyone, you don’t know that there is no audience for it.  All you know is the people you have shared it with, so far, haven’t gotten it.  It’s an often told fable, but J.K. Rowling was rejected multiple times, by big name publishers, whose opinions should have been trustworthy, before becoming a billionaire on the back of the earnings from a story that nobody was initially interested in publishing.  The Beatles were rejected, because guitar bands were thought to be on the wane.  Giving up just before you succeed is the stupidest time of all to fold.

  1. You May Be Doing Something Right

If your art disrupts and disturbs, it may get more than its fair share of rejection.  However, the realisation that if you’re disruptive with your art, you’re doing something right, if not immediately popular, can be a better response to rejection.  The fact that it is being rejected could mean that you’re onto something important and world-changing.  It might be affective because it upsets.  You might be taking people outside their comfort zones and making them think.  Rather than accepting your work, their first reaction is to reject and denounce it.  This rejection is not necessarily a bad thing at all.  It is often the pre-cursor to widespread, eventual acceptance.  The Impressionists were initially described as daubers and degenerate artists, but their art has never enjoyed more acceptance than it does today.  Although rejected initially, they were right and their art has had lasting appeal, beloved of many.  You might be slightly ahead of your time.

  1. It’s Their Loss

It’s a fact that those that reject you and your art will have to do without you and your art.  The richness of your artistic life will not be a part of theirs and they will miss out on following what is often a fascinating and interesting story.  It really is their loss.  The beauty you create won’t be in their lives.  Your incredible adventures won’t be shared by them in any way.  They’ll be all the poorer for not following you and your artistic outpourings.  Sure, they might not care and they may have an interesting and beautiful life without your art, but they will have denied themselves of your unique contribution.  No matter how well you do, how accepted your art eventually is and what success you enjoy, as an artist, they won’t be a part of it.  They’ll be excluded.  Sucks to be them.

No Contact Ever Again

A final note about rejecters: reconciliation rarely happens.  Those that reject you and your art are probably never going to like your art.  To do so would be to admit they were wrong and people hate doing that.  They have too much pride and don’t wish to feel the shame.  Why would you give them a second chance to reject you all over again, anyway?  You don’t need their constant rejection and judgementalism in your consciousness.  Cut it out of your life.  Don’t have anything to do with them, ever again.

On the rare occasions when somebody is brave enough to reverse their previous judgement and now embraces your art, it is for them to find a way back to you, not for you to welcome them back with open arms.  You are entitled to remain sceptical of their new-found enthusiasm and embraces, at least at first.  They certainly shouldn’t get priority over those that have faithfully supported you, just because they once rejected you.

They made their choice.

Conclusion

The best response to rejection of your art is to just keep making and sharing it.

The second best response is to make it for your own pleasure, but not necessarily share it with anybody.  That’s sub optimal, but at least you get to enjoy making your art.  Creativity has many benefits of its own.

Nearly the worst response to rejection is to try to make art to please the rejecters.  You can’t and you won’t, so it’s pointless to even try.  It’s also none of your business what they like, or what they reject and why.  Why should you even care?

The very worst response to artistic rejection is to stop making art.  Don’t do that.  Make what you like, the way that you like it.  The world can do what it will.

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