Artists: You Can’t Survive Hell

Artists. What does “Hell” mean to you?

Maybe you’re the religious type and you envision the lake of fire emanating heat, the scent of sulfur suffocating your every breath, and the torment of demons. You have wasted your life, or lived on a mountain of lies and sin, and now this is your punishment.

Gustave Dore’s Illustration from Dante’s Inferno

Maybe the idea of Hell is never achieving your dreams as an artist, instead of living a monotonous office job with no energy at the end of the day to make art, and you’ve woken up one day seeing your face has become wrinkled and aged looking back and realizing you’ve created nothing, and you’re all the more miserable for it. Moreover, you’ve lived your life with the rush of demands of society that you’ve never made meaningful connections, no one loves you because you’ve grown resentful and bitter without the art and beauty you knew you so desperately needed.

You know what Hell isn’t?


Imagine another scenario with me. You’ve spent hours on your artwork, or series of artworks. You enter it into a contest, or to an art gallery, only to open your inbox and read, “There were many great artworks to choose from, but we regret to inform you that your work wasn’t selected. We wish you luck in future endeavors.” These words are a knife in your gut. Jesus. Why don’t they just tell you, “Your work’s not good enough for us”? It would have been much more honest.

Maybe it did get accepted, but no one buys it.

Worse, art critics look at and say terrible things about it. “It’s not original,” they say. “It’s not inspired,” they say. “It’s… quaint.” And my personal favorite, “It’s Kitsch, but not art.”

As terrible as that was, what do you have? Hopefully, you have created something meaningful, if not to others, then to you at least. You have created a message to the world. Hopefully added some beauty to it (maybe not, and that wasn’t the point, but hopefully). Which, to me, sounds a million times better than having never created at all. Never having put yourself out there at all. Here’s the best part: maybe you’ve learned something from seeing the winners and became inspired to create something better than what you did yesterday. Maybe from your own mistakes and practice, you learned more techniques and methods for the next art piece you created. And the one after that. And the one after that.

None of that could be achieved if you gave up after one (or many) rejections. Worse. If you’ve never even tried.

If you don’t try, you’ve already failed.

This is something I myself am trying to work on. I’m coming up with a short list of how to circumvent this unholy fear of rejection.

1. Envision Hell: Think about what would happen if you’ve never tried.

Read the first three paragraphs I just wrote. Think about what would happen to you years from now if you’ve never taken that risk or that chance. I’m coming up on my late twenties and this is really starting to sink in that I haven’t really exhibited art.

2. Always be applying for something. Apply for multiple shows, and be prepared to be rejected by all of them

Always be looking at your local Arts and Culture Council, Calls for Artists, make a spreadsheet on Excel listed what shows you’ve applied for, when you need to apply by, and what’s. Don’t overdo it though. Apply for three at a time and put a lot of effort into creating art and applying for those shows or contests. If you get rejected from one or all of them, don’t worry. There will be more.

3. Don’t make excuses not to create and exhibit art.

Not having the time or money is probably the best excuse, but don’t make excuses. Busy with work and school? Try to figure out a way around your schedule. For me, and there’s a lot of science to back this up, forcing yourself to get up earlier is the best way to do this. We are generally more creative in the morning.

Getting up is hard though. Thankfully, we live in the future, and There are many wonderful alarm apps on your phone. The one I use is ALARMY, which is a very annoying alarm that will not turn off (and get progressively louder) until I get up and take a picture of something. Putting your alarm clock on the other side of the room, having multiples.

Also, before you paint, eat something with fat in it. Eat lots of eggs in the morning, or if you are vegan, avocados are delicious and fatty too. The point is, eats lots of fat first thing in the morning. It’s good for your brain.

It’s tough, but pursuing art is tough, and will never just hand anything to you.

Money’s another good excuse. There are application fees to art shows and contests sometimes. There’s a lot of free ones though. So, try to apply to those first. If you do end up spending money here and there, it’s better to think of it as an investment, especially if it’s a show that’s guaranteed to accept your work, like an art fair. It’s another thing you can add to your resume, and you will have had more experience, and more momentum to move on to the next thing.  Chances are, you are already spending money on stuff you don’t need. A subscription to an entertainment platform, snacks, going out to eat. In the long run, what’s more important? Spending $50 on eating out every day for a week and a half, or the chance to exhibit your art? So pack a lunch at home and get applying!

You have so much to add to the world. Don’t let anything hold you back!

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