Art of Rejection

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Immersing in the Art of Rejection

Examining works like Tom Roberts' "Rejected" (1883) and Alexander Pope's "The Rejected Poet" (1809) reveals the enduring emotional impact of rejection highlighted in art. Rejections tied to psychology and the human desire to belong further connect the stories of these works and the psychological need for belonging and highlight the need to spotlight the voices of the rejected in the gallery space. Gallerists today work to fill this gap with profiles from the Only Rejected Works Gallery, founded by Heather Rachel Adams, which showcases artists' rejected pieces, celebrating their resilience and creativity.

Few emotions humans feel separate us from the rest of the planet. Viewing rejection as a state of mind, a state of emotion, and a state of the gallery space allows one to grasp the humanity of rejection in its entirety. From the arts, psychology, and the gallery space, exploring the emotions associated with rejection allows us as creatives to see the art world through a larger, more precise lens. 

Queen of Poland
Queen of Poland

Rejection in Paintings

Rejected (1883) by Tom Roberts

This painting examines the vulnerability of rejection Tom Roberts faced early in his career. With his hat in his hands, he slumps over in disappointment, the complex emotions resonating with the viewer as his portrait stares into a standing mirror. Sitting in front of the mirror and contemplating one’s identity seems a therapeutic ritual we can all relate to, spanning hundreds of years.

Tim Roberts, Rejected, 1883 via Wikipedia
Tim Roberts, Rejected, 1883 via Wikipedia

The Rejected Poet (1809) by William Powell Frith

Some paintings focus on rejection in relationships, providing a historical timeline testament to “the worst she could say is no.” The Rejected Poet (1809) by William Powell Frith depicts a rift in the relationship between Alexander Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Pope expressed romantic feelings to Wortley, who, instead of reciprocating, began laughing in hysterics, throwing herself to the back of her chair and nearly falling down. Pope positions himself smaller, placing his head in his hands, his face contorted with the defeat of a young schoolboy. While Pope created this work almost a century before Roberts, the pair highlight that regardless of how much time has passed, these emotions of rejection and heartbreaking melancholy connect us across time. 

William Powell Frith, The Rejected Poet, 1809 via The Victorian Web
William Powell Frith, The Rejected Poet, 1809 via The Victorian Web

Why do we feel rejection?

Research suggests the feelings we feel alongside rejection stem from an evolutionary desire to belong. This phenomenon also seems to be increasing in people worldwide as we all become more connected through tech innovations. More people can come together than ever, so people have an elevated desire for belonging. With more resources at our fingertips, rejection is even more daunting because we want to belong somewhere. 

Our reaction to rejection is similar to how we respond to facing a threat. However, understanding the fear of rejection is more complex, something psychology still examines today. Expressing and resonating with those feelings in the arts offers a space for community and growth in the wake of perceived failure.

Elliptical Dutch Girl
Elliptical Dutch Girl

Gallerist profile: Only Rejected Works Gallery

The Only Rejected Works Gallery exists as a space for artists to get their work recognized amidst rejections from galleries, festivals, and exhibitions. Gallerist Heather Rachael called for submissions for her “only rejected works” gallery. She wanted to elevate the creative visions of artists who had turned away from being represented at other galleries. Within the day, she received thousands of comments expressing interest in the gallery, sharing their experiences with rejection in their career and wondering what they needed to do to become involved. 

The origins of this project can be traced back to other paintings throughout her career. As an artist herself, Heather is no stranger to the unpredictable, unforgiving dance the application and rejection process can be for getting work shown to the public. She created a portrait of a woman that she poured her heart and soul into—as she worked away at it, the woman’s eyes took on a kind, innocent gaze that Heather became drawn to. It quickly became her favorite work. However, her favorite piece received rejection after rejection, never seeming to find a fit at any gallery, festival, or exhibition. 

Heather Rachel Adams
Heather Rachel Adams 

What separates Heather’s rejected works gallery from other historical examples, like in the 1860s, is how she selects works to include on the website, but she doesn’t. Heather celebrates the art of rejection by removing it from her selection process. It is not up to her who makes the cut because they all do. To Heather, rejecting the voices of creative minds who want to elevate their rejected works would contradict the purpose of the gallery’s inception. An artist reaching out to this gallery using their rejected pieces and experiences is reason enough to highlight their stories. 

Susan Detroym Self Portrait. Represented by the Only Rejected Works Gallery
Susan Detroym Self Portrait. Represented by the Only Rejected Works Gallery

In the future, Heather hopes to expand the initiatives of the Only Rejected Works Gallery to in-person settings, allowing for the stories and visions of long-ignored artists to have a chance in the spotlight. However, today, she continues to work towards elevating the voices of rejected artists in her virtual gallery. Today, that same portrait that started it all hangs in her own home, symbolizing her dedication to her craft as an artist and a gallerist for all. 

Artists toil away to turn their hearts and souls into art on the chance that a gallery will represent them. Artists are constantly met with rejections from these galleries, leaving them in the balance, hoping to make a living doing what they love. Rejection connects humanity beyond interactions in the present—we can trace it through paintings hundreds of years, proving why psychologists today still study this unique facet of our everyday lives. However, it also proves that the voices of the rejected continue to change the world. Wherever these artists end up after being turned down, it ends up being where they belonged all along—they just need a chance. 


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