An artist’s life could easily be spent applying for things. For jobs, for venues, for grants, to be selected for a festival, for a gallery, to be cast in a show. It’s part of being in a competitive industry with limited long-term opportunities. It can be a great leg up, when a young artist gets recognised by a more established organisation.
Another result is that rejection becomes part and parcel of the artist’s career.
This has been discussed before. I like this video from writer Laurie Petrou:
I believe that what Laurie says is true: that being rejected helps us to reach our full potential. That even your best, most successful work, can be revised and improved. By embracing rejection as a tool, as a stepping stone - we discover just how great our work can be.
But putting yourself out there in the traditional model doesn’t just come with the risk of rejection.
It takes a hell of a lot of time.
Very few opportunities involve simply uploading a script with your name and pressing send. There are cover letters, essays, marketing proposals, paragraphs on how your work is relevant to a particular area or government body or festival theme.
I have been absorbed in this world, reshuffling deadlines to complete an application, dedicating hours, days, even weeks to crafting the perfect proposal. We have been taught to jump at every opportunity. Jump before you think you’re ready. Take any chance you can get. Because you’ve got to be in it to win it. Besides, the worst that could happen is that you get rejected.
Except now you’ve spent a week writing about the work, instead of actually writing the work. Or painting the painting, or refining the choreography, or rehearsing the part of your practice that they’re not judging.
To be honest, I don’t have time for this anymore. I’ve taken a step back recently from a number of applications that I feel like I should have completed. But they’re not missed opportunities. In fact, they are opportunities taken: to write the play, to prepare for production, to engage in professional development.
So I definitely won’t land that magical program that would have immediately elevated my bio. I might have to spend some more money on resources like space and classes. But if time is the resource that we’re focusing on here, then you have to invest it wisely. In her talk, Laurie focuses on the way that, through their rejections, experienced assessors and gatekeepers make us better artists. However, this is a world of zero-individual-feedback and sometimes complete radio silence instead of an outright rejection. If we spend all our time trying to become the artists that others want us to be, we will never become the best artists we can be.
So you won’t see me winning any awards any time soon. But I am working. I’m applying the lessons I’ve learned so far. I’m trying a few things out. Those periods of missing opportunities, of furiously making your own way: that’s when magic happens.