My friend, Jack Canfield who co-authored Chicken Soup for the Soul told me years ago that the manuscript had been rejected by, I think, twenty publishers before they found someone who finally agreed to publish the book. It became a world sensation. Millions of copies printed and translated in dozens of languages.
What happened? Why did so many publishers reject it?
Before answering, another example:
I recently spoke with a very gifted artist. Her paintings hang in my home next to works by some of the most famous American artists. When guests visit, they are invariably attracted to her paintings first. Only later do they drift over to the works by other artists. Still Yale’s art school rejected her for her Master’s degree.
What is going on?
My insight: There is “the establishment” in the community of arts and letters and if you do not belong you will often find your work rejected.
By “establishment” I do not mean some class of people. I think more generally that there is a school of thought, a prevalent market taste and a sense of comfort people have with a work of art that feels familiar.
If the new work of a writer or artist deviates from the accepted contemporary school of thought, or the present market taste or if it is not very familiar, it will often be rejected.
Was not Stravinsky’s Firebird booed the first time it was performed?
And the artists we today admire whose paintings hang in museums were they not often unappreciated if not scorned? In their day, some were starving artists; to purchase one of their works today requires vast sums of money.
My insight is that artists should not perceive being rejected as the final evaluation of their work. The rejection might be a sign that the work itself falls outside the accepted norm, that it is really out of the ordinary. My suggestion to the artists: Keep going. Let time catch up with you. You are just too far ahead.
Of course, not every new work of art is ahead of its time, breaking the mold and moving in a new direction. Some creations are justifiably rejected. They are not meritorious, are superficial or poorly executed. Bad art.
How to know the difference?
I believe motive may play a part here. If an artist created something to please the public or the commercial consumer and it was rejected, it probably was rightly dismissed.
Because he/she tried to hit the mark and missed.
The work failed on its own terms.
But if the artist created something that represented HERSELF, that is an extension of her imagination and professional gifts, an attempt to take a new and innovative stance within the discipline, then silence or rejection should not necessarily be a measure or sign of lack of value.
Because they were not trying to please anyone but themselves. If it met their criteria of success and their attempt to advance their craft, vision and form, then they have succeeded by definition. Now let time do its job and wait and see if eventually he or she is recognized. And if not in their lifetime, or perhaps ever, still no harm is done.
Because the artist did not try to please anyone but herself. It was an effort on her part to be bold and original and to advance the world of art. At the very least a noble effort.
As an innovator, an artist has to be true to the calling. Have met her and his criteria of success. And the above insight does not apply to artists only. I believe it applies to any innovator; anyone that tries to express themselves in any form or shape.
The way to break a pattern, to innovate, to lead, is not to fear rejection. Indeed, rejection might be a sign that the artist is on the right path. Silence might be the worst response one that tries to innovate can endure.
Ichak Kalderon Adizes