A couple weeks ago I applied for a collage poetry residency at MERZ Gallery in Scotland. Even though I felt like I was punching above my weight I went for it anyway because collage poetry is what I’ve spent the last two years working on. I’m confident in that body of work and cultivated a unique voice/style so I figured I had a better than average shot at the residency.
I told a few IRL friendos about how excited I was about this residency but I didn’t talk about it on socials for…a lot of reasons we’re gonna talk about below because most artists do this to themselves in one way or another.
Sometimes we’re afraid to admit when we really really want something, afraid to speak it into the universe because if we do a) we’re gonna jinx ourselves; b) we’re gonna have to deal with how we feel if we don’t get to do The Thing; and c) we may have to admit in public that we got rejected when someone asks whether we got to do The Thing.
This last bit is the scariest of all because it presses the button that opens the shame door, a door which must remain slammed shut and locked at all times for everyone’s safety.
It’s hard for artists to confidently share our work from a place of knowing our work is worthy of submitting. We kind of just sheepishly put it out there like *I made an arts hope you like it but if you don’t that’s ok too I’ll just go cry in a corner and make more art nobody likes*
(Maybe that’s just me 😂)
Anyway! It’s important to slow down and think about what we’re saying to ourselves when we’re hesitant to share our excitement about things we’d like to do. Keeping all that energy bottled up inside harms not only our inner creative beings but also the artists around us who look to us as leaders and mentors.
(If you’re at a point in your art career where you’re submitting work for shows and residencies, you’re a leader and a mentor…you only need to be one rung up the ladder so no pressure but other artists are absolutely watching you navigate this.)
So what are we really saying when we say we don’t want to jinx ourselves by talking about an opportunity we want?
We’re saying we don’t believe in ourselves.
We don’t believe in our work.
We don’t believe we’re talented enough to get into that show or be offered that residency.
This is some super toxic self-talk! We wouldn’t say things like this to another artist! Why do we talk to ourselves like this?
I have some guesses. Most likely the voice telling us our work is shit and we don’t deserve to do The Thing isn’t even ours, it’s someone else’s. Maybe a teacher or a parent or a jealous friend.
That voice keeps us from sharing our joy and excitement with the world and those are exactly the things the world needs more of.
So if you really want something it’s important to speak it into existence. Just fucking go for it be confidently loud your excitement is contagious! I mean, just look at how Sean does things if you need an example:
(Sean’s killing it, btw)
But we don’t always get what we want right? That’s just a normal part of the art process — putting your work out there, allowing it to be seen, and getting rejected (over and over and over again).
When you first start applying for shows and residencies if you’re like most artists your work is gonna get rejected way more often than it’ll be accepted. And that’s ok!
Artists should be on a mission to rack up as many rejections as possible because those rejections are a form of failing faster and the faster you fail the faster you learn how to do the thing well. This continuous process of submitting, tracking, and adjusting increases your chances of getting accepted.
The other important thing about racking up rejections is that you hone your ability to confidently talk about your work. In that process you might learn something new about your work or a creative path you’d like to explore. Maybe you even discover that you’re no longer passionate about the work you’ve been doing and it’s time to course correct.
We don’t often take the time to question what we’re working on, we just fall into a pattern of work work work. We stop understanding what we’re creating on a cellular level so the perspective you gain in learning how to share your art with confidence is so valuable.
So yeah, I didn’t get the collage poetry residency. I thought I was ok with it and went through the whole five stages of grief in about five minutes:
- Denial: pfffft this was obviously a mistake because my work is amazing 🙄
- Anger: wtf how could they do me a dirty like this?!? 🤬
- Bargaining: maybe the person they offered it to will decline because they have rabies or something and I’m next on the list 🙏
- Depression: fuck, my work sucks, omg how dare I even submit my work to something so amazing? 😭
- Acceptance: on to the next meep meep 🚗💨
I was fine until I had to show up and pretend I’m an artist a few days later.
Which super sucked because this event was lovely! I channeled my inner Hugamonster and did my best to be present — this was a group show curated by South Jersey Artist Collective (I’m a board member). For a handful of artists this was their first show and seeing their excitement made me so freakin happy! I loved chatting with them and learning about what inspired their work.
But the whole time I felt like I didn’t belong there. I felt like I was fucking up, like nothing I create means anything ever.
2022 Jen would have been over the fucking moon getting to see her work hanging on the wall in a building where I busted my ass putting myself through college as a very young single mama. And that Jen would never have been able to conceive of a life where she had time to make art, forget *waves hands* all of this.
It took a few days to realize that how I felt that night was tied back to the whole residency thing and that maaaaaybe just maybe I should have been a little more brave and shared the journey (which duh, is literally the point of this website 🤦♀️).
I’d cut myself off from my support system by not talking about shit I cared deeply about.
As I write this I realize this is a bigger pattern but let’s stick with the art thing because that’s what we’re all here for 😜
Our brains can be very mean to us, and mine was. For five seconds I wanted to quit making art and pick up a less painful pursuit like crocheting for example. It took a few days to reboot.
It would have taken less time had I not stayed locked up in my head and that’s why I’m bothering to write about this because I KNOW we all go through it and maybe this might help someone else.
It’s important for us to share our losses as well as our wins. Social media is our highlight reel but it’s not real. When we don’t share the things we’re excited about/opportunities we missed out on we’re cutting ourselves off from our support system. When we only share our successes, we miss an opportunity to help other artists and we deny our friends the opportunity to help us when we’re struggling — they want to help us as much as we want to help them, we all grow together ❤️
So go do some Sean-level shouting and manifest some cool shit already what are you waiting for!?!