In Pursuit of Failure

Today I revisited my calendar. 

After this past weekend, I did some math and found that if I did as well in fairs like the Sunflower Festival every weekend, I would be a full-time artist. The problem is, successful events are not weekly in my calendar. I’m not sure that I want to be a full-time craft fair vendor, either. I’d like to branch out more and see in what other ways I can find the financial success that would allow me to become an artist full-time. In other words, I need to get some applications out.

This reminded me of a project I’ve heard many iterations of over the past few months, and I think it’s finally time to find my version. The original version of this was given to the world by Jia Jiang, in a TedTalk and later book about facing 100 Days of Rejection. Because professional rejection doesn’t time itself so nicely as once per day, many artists and other creatives have adapted this to a yearlong challenge to receive 100 rejections. This challenge sounds absurd at first- a rejection is a failure, right?

Well, not really. The beauty of this challenge is multi-faceted. You have to apply for at least 100 opportunities to receive 100 rejections. If you put all your self-worth on the one thing you really wanted, it stings a lot more when you don’t get it. I felt this when I was rejected a local studio residency that sounded like it was made for me. Instead, the goal is to put yourself out there so many times that you lose track of what you’re waiting to hear about. The rejection letters start to look like junk mail in your inbox- annoying, but easy to delete and move on. It helps you learn to deal with rejection in a more healthy way. 

Another thing is that it does force you to do more. If you applied for 100 opportunities (let’s say jobs to keep it relatable,) do you really expect to have no offers? Go to indeed right now and apply to just twenty jobs in your area and you’ll be the one rejecting offers. For me, most of these applications are for one-time gigs. I can say yes to quite a bit and get to choose between two things when necessary. If I only apply to events I know I can get into, then I’m staying at a comfortable level. By applying to more than that, I can accelerate my growth and find myself busier with my art. 

Finally, time and time again, people who take on a 100 rejections challenge find it hard to actually reach all the rejections. People are surprisingly agreeable if you just ask. If memory serves correctly, Jiang (the original 100 rejections person) went into a donut shop and asked for one in the shape of the Olympic logo. The donut makers were perplexed, but pooled their talents and made it happen. He was surprised not to be laughed out of the store. Instead, he left with his quintuplet donut. 

In a somewhat related vein, I found myself thinking at this fair about what makes art good. Art that’s generally likable is not often great. I used to aim to make art “for everyone,” but I don’t see the value in that anymore. Some artists make work that a lot of people don’t see the value in, but connects deeply with the right audience. I found myself strangely rooting for people to dislike my work, despite the fact that I was there for money. In a different fair, someone used the phrase “to each their own” and commented that I looked the part of living in Northern NH (I'm from central NH, but this was Manchester so it’s all north to them.) At this weekend's fair, several people walked past my booth, peeked in, saw some chickens and shrugged. Yesss, I thought, it’s not for you. This is a difficult concept to explain, I suppose, but when people really don’t connect with my work it validates the strength of its connection to the ones that do get it. I don’t think chickens are my end game way to connect to an audience, but it’s a good niche for the moment. It’s teaching me about reaching people. 

I think you know where this post is headed. I think it’s time for some failure. 

I’m going to start keeping track of applications and rejections, starting with the ones in my most recent memory. I’m mostly pursuing professional art opportunities, but I’ll count personal rejections too. They’ll live in this post to keep me accountable. Let’s see where some intense trying takes me. Oh, and it only counts when I know I've been rejected. So many people don't want to say no and just ghost me... 

Rejection count: 5

Last update: December 20, 2022

  • Kimball Jenkins studio residency- rejected, but offered a free class as consolation
  • Gallery assistant position at New England College- rejected due to still being a student at the time
  • Groovy Noodle Art Wall- accepted
  • Gilford High School craft fair- waitlisted, then accepted
  • Bedford Handmade fair- accepted
  • Concord Arts Market- accepted for two dates
  • Warner Fall Foliage Fest- accepted 
  • Skillshare scholarship- not chosen for full scholarship, accepted for half scholarship 
  • Windham pop-up art gallery- accepted
  • Mosaic Art Collective gallery show "Full Circle"- accepted
  • Wrong Brain Holidaze Bizaare- rejected
  • New London Hospital rotating exhibition space- tbd
  • Create Magazine 6th anniversary issue- rejected
  • Pentel Spotlight Award- won
  • Nashua Public Library's rotating solo exhibitions- I was their first choice
  • Gallery In The Square's inaugural Beginnings show- rejected; this may be due to the size of my work, I speculate
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