We’ve all felt it before: the pain of rejection. Sometimes it happens as we develop the artwork and a friend or family member offers unwanted advice. Other times our work is up for exhibit at a gallery, or for sale at an art fair. Somehow, we manage to overhear a comment like, “The color is strong,” or “I wouldn’t want that in my home.”
I’m sure you have your own story about this. We take in that feedback and it becomes a tally, a scorecard that keeps track of all that’s wrong with your work.
These things happen. We feel hurt. We nurse our wounds. And then we have to decide: do I carry on?
Generally the act of creation is solitary. It’s part of why artists are portrayed as loners, or lonely. Yet, artist community can be the very antidote to those rejection wounds (and lonely feelings). Many artists in history have thrived because of their joint interest and conversation around the arts (hello, surrealism). So, how does community serve the artist?
Several years ago scientist Matthew Leiberman wrote a book called Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. In it, he shared his research on the power of community. He found that we are *“profoundly shaped by social environment.” In fact, when we experience social pain, we feel it as real as physical pain!
Lieberman argues that our need to connect socially is as basic and fundamental a need as is our need for food and water. Apparently, we need a revision in Maslow’s hierarchy.
When Lieberman tested subjects for social pain he discovered the brain responded to a treatment of Tylenol the same way it does for physical pain. This means he found people could lessen their experience of social pain with Tylenol! This is mind-blowing to me. There are obvious implications around having a social brain and making art.
*Sociobiologist E.O. Wilson says it well: “A person’s membership in his group… is a large part of his identity.”
This is why we feel pain and rejection when people don’t like or approve of our art! We see our art as extensions of ourselves and when we hear/experience negative feedback, we don’t only feel a very real pain, it makes us feel separate from our community.
Cultivating an artist community can help you combat this very real pain. Sharing and connecting with other artists who experience the same thing means we feel less alone. We have each other even if someone doesn’t appreciate your art. It’s a lot easier to call myself artist because I spend time cultivating connections with other artists.
Lieberman felt this also had a strong lesson for businesses. I also include here: teachers.
*“Praise and an environment free from social threats are powerful motivators.”
Danielle Krysa of The Jealous Curator openly discusses the harsh and cruel critiquing environments she experienced at the hand of professors at art school. It was an environment FULL of social threat. I’m not surprised it’s taken years to return to her art (even though so many of us think it’s amazing); she felt ostracized from art community and connection.
Seek an artist community where artists offer feedback in a supportive way. Find a space where you can feel free to share ALL of your art, because that’s a faster path to finding your artist voice and growing your art, side by side other artists.
Leiberman’s research also explains why being a creator is fulfilling.
People are happier when they enjoy experiences. Collecting stuff does not incite the same amount of pleasure or sustained gratitude. We get more out of travel than buying a larger house, for example. MAKING fits on the pendulum of experience. It is an active behavior and action. So making offers satisfaction and feelings of fulfillment.
Even if the act of making is solitary, most people desire to share their art. Art is a product people experience: it creates opportunity for dialogue and connection. Burning Man is a great example of this. People make together AND experience the art together. It’s all about community and connection.
It’s also why finding and joining an artist group can be so important: it’s a space to share your creation and engage in the very dialogues that make us feel connected.
I was very fortunate in my 20s to enter a competition with VSA Arts and become a finalist. I won a sum of money and 2 artworks were selected for display: one went to the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts and the other to The Smithsonian.
The art was beautifully framed and travelled across the US for exhibition for 2 years. Everything had come together for me and supposedly I “made it.” Yet, I was working on Cape Cod, feeling very alone. I had no artist community to celebrate with me, nor help me consider my next steps. What was my new definition of success? I felt even less permission to make bad art, and god forbid, share that work with others.
This is why I’ve created Artist Strong.
It’s not a bonus to be part of an artist community. If you call yourself artist, it is imperative you seek and develop within an artist community. In fact, Lieberman might argue it’s in your biology.
*”The strongest predictor of species brain size is the size of its social group.” We are hardwired for community. Have you found yours?
*Articles and quotes referenced today are from: