One of the reasons I started painting was to establish my own authenticity in the face of other's opinions. In college I gave up art as a career path because I was paralyzed by self-doubt and the fear of rejection by the art world, and well, everyone else too. Any kind of self-expression (and for me this is most felt with visual art) can be SO vulnerable. We bare our soul to the world and hope that our soul's expression is received well. When we care too much about how others receive us, it skews and shrinks how we express ourselves, creating for their approval, rather than for our own hearts. It takes tremendous work to express vulnerably and with a tough enough skin to stay true to ourselves.
I can't claim to be totally free of the trap of approval-seeking, but I can proudly affirm that I'm stepping bravely into the arena (as Brene Brown likes to call it) and developing more capacity to stay open and honest and loving with my work. The past few months have accelerated this process for me. I decided to enter art shows for the first time and have had my first painful experience of rejection from the art world. Shame and self-doubt took over and it was difficult to find my legs again. Others I knew had gotten into this particular show, amplifying the voice of my inner critic. Questions arose about whether I should make art at all, or if my art matters. I knew that I needed to lean on more than my own inner compass to guide me through, so I reached out to my beloved community of artists and asked for help. I needed perspective from other artists who have faced many rejections and still find the strength to make the art that brings THEM the most joy. One by one the messages poured in. Sensitive, thoughtful, encouraging messages. By the end, it didn't even matter what my artist friends were saying. What mattered was that I wasn't alone. I felt the arms of dozens of brave artists wrapped around me, infusing me with the strength I need to stand in my own heart, in my own arena, and to remember that I matter, regardless of the sounds of rejection coming from the stands. And it just so happened that that third show I applied for was met with an acceptance.
Making something is always a vulnerable act if you make it from your soul. It's a risk, which is what makes it so compelling, both for the maker and the viewer. And yet, no doubt you WILL be rejected. My hope though, for all of us creatives, is that the rejections bring us (sometimes painfully) closer and closer to ourselves, strengthening our own voice, and thickening our skin even as we are granted deeper access to our own tender depths. The way to foster the bravery needed to enter the arena? Lean into the welcoming arms of others doing this powerfully vulnerable work. There is a community out there of others living through similar challenges as you. Seek them out. Plus, it turns out they need you as much as you need them. WE need you to live your brave life. We need YOU.