It’s Not Me, It’s You by Lee Mathers
Artist and Gallery Director Lee Mathers explores the twists and turns of the selective process, touching on the vexed issue of rejection and how to make it work for you –
Let’s jump straight in at the pointy end of the stick and give the most simplistic and I must say grossly misconceived of reasonings for a selective process… quality! While true to some degree, a selective process (no matter the context) is much more complex, with quality an important consideration but not always the priority.
For those of us that work in the creative industries, it’s not uncommon to wear the multiple ‘art worker hats’ of artist and arts manager. Having gone through both sides of the ‘rejection’ experience as both the applicant and the human tasked with curating a selective process, I can vouch it’s a tough gig from either perspective.
Hoping you picked up on the word ‘human’ in the previous sentence because this is important! A selection process inevitably means some won’t make the cut and one of the biggest tips I can give artists is to not shoot the messenger. This may sound cliched but there really are so many opportunities to learn, grow and develop from the ‘rejection experience’ and when possible always get feedback from the curator, panel etc. This is one of the unique moments where you can start to build a professional network or get some impartial and constructive feedback from an industry professional to help improve and grow your professional practice.
Undertaking the challenging task of a selection process is not easy and as curators and arts managers we are very aware of the disappointment that will result in rejecting applicants for an opportunity. Good curating is rarely about selecting artists because you think they are nice or because they are local and by default should be included in a program. And really, is that the criteria on which you would like to be shortlisted or included in a program?
I personally feel I would be negating my professional obligation as a champion and advocate for the sustainability of the arts and culture sector if I didn’t adopt a selective process. If you’re wondering how big picture strategy talk has any bearing on the ground at program delivery level then let me try to briefly explain. Strategic framework is essential when developing curatorial content and is often the missing link to connect the dots for why a curated selection process is essential.
The point of a curatorial selection process is fundamentally to enable and preserve integrity of arts and cultural product (whether it’s resources, exhibitions, events, funding, education or infrastructure) the approach must be coherent and research driven to establish point of difference and standards for how we as an industry are perceived and experienced. Participation and funding depend on these core values… and we as an industry are competing in a highly competitive field… which by its nature has the ‘rejection experience’.
Applying for competitive arts opportunities shouldn’t be treated any differently to a job application. Consider if the opportunity is the right fit for your art form, experience, conceptual context etc. and if you do your research you will find the right opportunities that match your respective creative sphere.
Just recently a work colleague commented “you’ve clearly found an effective coping mechanism for adverse situations”. It took considerable composure on my part not to burst into hysterical laughter and say “Yeah Baby – I’m an artist, that’s our gig”, instead (and maintaining composure) I just quietly smiled. Rejection is by virtue part of the creative process and builds resilience. When it happens, one should embrace it as an opportunity to learn, grow and develop both personally and professionally.
Words by Lee Mathers © 2019
Disclaimer: The views and opinions in this article are my own and do not reflect those of current or previous employers.