Art=Rejection, And That’s Perfectly Fine (I Think)

By Jack Canfora

To be an artist or writer means to become intimately, and more often than not, quite frequently acquainted with rejection. Fortunately, I have become somewhat inured to rejection due to a rigorous immersion in it in middle school. Still, some rejections can sting a bit regardless of how many girls laughed at you, or walked away, or looked right through like you were a window pane, or, in one instance, feigned a seizure when you asked them to dance. The bottom line is, we’ve all experienced rejection. If you somehow never have, read no further. In fact, get the hell off this blog! That means you, Karen Matriccio! And Stephanie Wyler. In fact, every girl who attended Elwood Junior High’s Homecoming Dance of 1984 (Homecoming for a junior high? What were we coming home from, the orthodontist?), get the hell out of here!

Sorry, my work on my anger issues is a…let’s call it a work in progress.

Anyway, sometimes it’s good to consider some of the many great writers and artists who’ve been slapped down, often repeatedly, by people who seem like, in retrospect, utter fools. I’ve saved you the trouble of scouring Google and compiled a few of my favorites, which I now share with you:

U2 – May, 1978, from RSO records: “We have listened with careful consideration, but feel it is not suitable for us at present.” I love how this letter combs over its cattiness with a patina of British civility. At first, “careful consideration” sounds good; it means they really gave it a lot of thought. But more probably, it means they really, really are thoroughly convinced that U2 sucks.

Kurt Vonnegut – from The Atlantic Monthly: “[your submissions] have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance.” Ouch. So close. Vonnegut actually loved to collect rejection letters, having received quite a few early on, and had this framed. That’s a confidence we should all aspire to.

Alice Munro – from Knopf: “As a collection I suppose there is nothing particularly new and exciting here,” writes Editor Judith Jones. Guess again, Edith. Munro is generally considered one of the greatest masters of the short story form, and is now a Nobel laureate for her work in literature and recipient of the Governor General’s Award, the highest literary honor in Canada.

William Golding – Lord of the Flies was rejected 21 times, with one publisher gently calling it, “an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” While some high school sophomores might be inclined to agree, most of the literary world – eventually – did not.

Stephen King – Ace Publishing (Really? Ace Publishing? Who are they to throw stones? They named themselves “Ace Publishing.” Sounds like a money laundering front) rejected Carrie, stating flatly, “We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” “Negative Utopias”? Did no one at Ace know the word “dystopia”? Definitely a money laundering scam. I’ll be honest, I have no idea if Ace Publishing even exists any more. I do know that Carrie still manages to sell a few copies every year.

John Cleese – From the BBC’s initial rejection of Fawlty Towers: “I’m afraid I thought this one as dire as its title. It’s a kind of “Prince of Denmark” of the hotel world. A collection of cliches and stock characters which I can’t see being anything but a disaster.” Now bear in mind, John Cleese had already achieved accolades and fame from Monty Python, broadcasted by the BBC. Fawlty Towers is generally regarded as among the greatest sitcoms ever made.

The Beatles– From Decca Records: “Guitar bands are on their way out.” Not so much, it turns out.

And if that doesn’t lift your spirits, Shakespeare gets on 4 1/2 stars out of 5 on Amazon. Which means, somewhere, there are sizable cohort of people who think Hamlet is a piece of crap. And event these people are in good company. Leo Tolstoy hated Shakespeare, for example. 

There are legions more. I would argue, as disparate as the artists are, they have one thing in common: they were all original, and the sad truth is it takes a rare talent indeed to recognize, let alone appreciate, originality when they come across it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m open to the idea that many of my rejections can be chalked up to the fact that what I submitted just wasn’t good enough. Or it may have been fine, but just not to this person’s taste.

Also, take some solace in this: no matter who you are, not everyone will like your work, regardless of its quality. No one is universally admired. Marlon Brando hated The Beatles. Dorothy Parker couldn’t abide Katherine Hepburn’s acting, acidly dismissing her in a review with the deathless dis, “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.” Oh, Dorothy, how we miss you. And remember, many of the people who do the rejecting know their jobs depend invariably around rejecting people.

So, sure feel bad if you get rejected. It stings. Give yourself an hour or two, or, hell, even a whole day if you need it to feel sorry for yourself and misunderstood in your time, like Van Gogh (oh yeah, we didn’t even get to him!). But get up, and get back to it. I firmly believe art is, as much as anything else, an endurance sport. Here’s to building up all our staminas.

In the name of everything you hold dear, PLEASE follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jackcanfora

Also, my new online theater company, New Normal Rep, will announce a pretty cool slate of plays in 2021. In the meantime, here’s a little thingy we did. Please check it out!

18 thoughts on “Art=Rejection, And That’s Perfectly Fine (I Think)

  1. Rejection teaches humility and encourages excellence and mental toughness. That’s why those who are spoiled early in life rarely accomplish much. We don’t learn when we aren’t challenged, as witnessed by the tragedy of the Trump administration.

  2. I’ve been rejected often, usually when it comes to applying for a job. It stings for sure, especially considering how many times I have applied for a job that is suitable with my skill and interest. But on the upside, it makes me getting used to interviews and I’m not as nervous as when I first graduated

  3. I feel this one! Art is almost constant rejection. LOL I save every rejection letter/email I get. They substantially outnumber any acceptance letters.

  4. This article made me laugh, really. No, it is not nice to be rejected AND it happens, so I had to learn to live with it and not to take it personally.
    This year I had a nice collection of rejections when asking about an covered/ indoor space to use in case of bad weather for my tai chi classes. The best rejection I got (in written, from local padre) I have saved for future reference: it was pretty original, great use of language and who knows…. I can reuse it if needed to provide soft landing for the one asking something (remote chances this will happen).
    Anyhow, it is good to know I´m in a good company (referring to all the great people you have mentioned)

  5. Been there, done that. Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance, now hugely popular bestseller by Robert Pirsig, was rejected by 121 publishers before an editor reluctantly decided to print it. The book has now sold about a gazillion copies and has been translated into every language spoken by humans. Writers have to remember that editors are just people and bring their reading biases with them when deciding on what to take and what to reject. I’ve had pieces that were totally dissed by many only to be published by others who thought they were great. Beauty and artistic merit are in the eyes of the beholder. Thanks for reminding us about this.

  6. Art as an endurance sport, I am definitely on board with this. I’ve only entered short story and poetry competitions so far in my attempts to have recognition for writing, and about ten of them at that, but encouragement to keep going is something I value amidst my personal doubts.

    Thanks for this piece of writing, and the humour you weave throughout all your writing. Peace.

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