Rejection and “That’s not my best work”
One of my pieces was rejected this week from a regional SAQA exhibit. The Juror was Yvonne Porcella! I hold Yvonne in the highest esteem. I have met her a few times and found her to be gracious and delightful person as well as an amazing artist. I would have loved to have been juried in by Yvonne.
But my piece did not make the cut. Okay, it does not feel good to have a piece rejected. Was I surprised? Not really. I had the idea for this piece in my mind for quite some time but I made the piece pretty quickly and photographed it at the last moment. I’m not sure it would have juried in anyway, because it was “not my best work”.
Before I write about my feelings about all of this, let’s look at the piece-Backstory:
I used Linda Waddle’s beautiful hand dyed wool for the base and a sheer silk organza for the backing. I used a blue wash out pen to mark the lines for the vines and perimeters of the borders, then free handed the rest. I don’t like the title but that’s what I came up with on the fly. Does anyone have a better title?
I do love this technique of layering the fabrics, free motion quilting my design, then cutting away the negative space to reveal the sheer backing. Oh I love sheers and I love cutwork on sheers!
I am attracted to this kind of Jacobean motif-it’s elegant and nature inspired. I do like this piece and it looks glorious when it hangs free so that the back can be appreciated and the transparency is highlighted. My photography skills cannot even begin to show this well but you get the idea.
I like to use high value contrast threads on the back of this type of work to create another color story. I used Superior Thread’s Fantastico-a 40-weight trilobal polyester.
So here’s the deal. I like the piece-a lot. Yet it is not my best work.
I have a lot of opinions about that phrase: “Not my best work”. That phrase can be used as an excuse, meaning, I am very disappointed that I didn’t jury in so I will excuse the failure by saying “It’s not my best work”. Then I have a way out.
In this case, I really did not think that it was my best work. Conversely, I’ve had work that did really well in show that I did not think was great work:
Like this piece-I had a fabric bleed right before I had to ship it in and I almost didn’t send it in. And, I did not think it was that strong of a piece. Yet Mom’s Lily Bed won Runner Up, Best of Show at PIQF. Go figure. Maybe I’m not a good judge of “my best work”. (The color is way off in this photo-it’s much prettier in real life.)
This kind of thing makes me return to my favorite book on making art, the little book “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. It gets right into your self-sabotaging, self-doubting mind, whisks away all the drama and leaves you with a clear view of the process of making art. One of the core principles I learned from the book is:
“The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars….even the failed pieces are essential”
Wow, doesn’t that turn you on your head? If that is true, then “failed” pieces or not-my-best-work pieces are necessary! That takes all the angst out of it for me. Okay, so it’s not my best, maybe it’s actually awful. So what? That was a necessary piece to lead me to that one glorious piece. Once I know that, I can go forth in confidence.
Another key principle around artistic “failure” is that my work did not jury in. Fortunately I am clear that my work is separate from me. My work may have “failed”, but I did not. It doesn’t feel good to be rejected, but it was my work that was rejected, not me!
I got over the rejection in about a day. Now I’m working on a piece for an international SAQA exhibit, not a regional one. That bar is really high. I hope I jury in. Onward.
I’ll be linking up with Nina-Marie’s Off the Wall Friday-there are always great links there.
Bobbi Bullard says
Jenny, I am stunned you did not get in. I think this is spectacular. I do feel you did the piece a disservice with the name. Although it could have been taken as ironic, you are planting the idea that the work does not deserve to be in the show. Words matter. As much as we want the art to speak for itself, the title is the judges first impression of the work.
Anyway, though you don’t like it, I think this is beautiful.
Thank you Bobbi. I don’t concern myself too much about the juror because there are so many factors in play to put together a great show. There may have been a sea of green entries, my entry may not play well with the other pieces chosen, maybe there was another, stronger wool-over-sheer entry :-). I don’t spend much energy on figuring out the juror. It may do well in another venue. I still like my piece!
Lenella Maxwell says
I have to agree with Bobbi. When I read the title, I immediately began looking to see what was wrong with it. A judge may have truly liked the piece, but because you put negativity into the name, it was a turn off. You need to be confident and upbeat in your work and the name. People don’t want to be brought down with negativity, because they have to face too much of it in their everyday lives. So let it bespeak of fantasy. Such as Fairy Quilt. It is beautiful with all the scroll work, it looks almost Celtic. And when I think of Celtic, I think of fairy and imaginary kingdom. Naming it Fairy Quilt, or something similar would cause the viewer to immediately be caught up in a fantasy to take their minds of of every day problems. After all, isn’t that what “art” is all about?
Thank you Lenella. Wow, did not mean for Backstory to be negative, was thinking more like “there’s a story on the back of the quilt-be sure to look at the back too”. It is great to hear how others perceive it-I’m not sold on the current title!
Margaret Blank says
Okay…so why do you say that piece was ‘not my best work’? It may have been made more quickly than usual, but taking one’s time on a piece doesn’t always lead to good work let alone ‘best’ work. Sometimes too much time on a piece can lead to over-thinking or not knowing when to stop with details etc. The photography may have been an issue…as that’s how pieces are judged now, regardless of how they appear in reality…
Back to the question. How do you define “my best work”? :-)
Ummmm, dunno how I define my best work! It’s a gut thing, an emotion coupled with a discerning eye. My best work has almost always had a strong emotion besides “it’s pretty” and the impetus to create this piece was more about a NEED to make it, just because. I like the piece, I simply don’t feel that it’s my best. And of course, that is okay. Also, the most striking thing about this piece is the transparency which I did not capture in my photo. I have the utmost regard for Yvonne, so that settles it for me.
Roxane Lessa says
Jenny, this is such a healthy point of view, and thanks for reminding all of us. Your work is always beautiful, whether you consider it your best or not.
Thank you Roxane!
Thanks for repeating my favorite quote from “Art and Fear” – yes, not every work is a masterpiece. Personally, I learn more from my failures because of my struggles. And I’ve found that what I think is my best work isn’t what others think of as my best. Conversely, stuff that I shrug about is sometimes praised by others. Also thanks for sharing this rejection and being honest about your feelings. It’s too bad you couldn’t have the piece back lit. Then it would show beautifully, like a butterfly with its wings open.
Ah, another Art and Fear fan! Isn’t that true-we learn way more from failure than success. I like your butterfly imagery-maybe that is where I should go with my title.
It’s a very striking piece and I agree the title is weak. I think something that is both roomantic and passionate would perhaps be better “Persian Nights” or “Indian Love Story” or “The Lady of Shalott” or something along those lines . . . :)
Georgina I’m laughing. I really do need to rename it something more passionate! Thank you for your delightful suggestions!
I love this quilt, Jenny and the title “Backstory” is perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing, as a matter of fact I wouldn’t give up on entering it in shows. It really is special.
Thank you for the encouragement Charae-I will keep it in the mix and see what happens. That title still has me thinking though…
I agree with the others that this is a beautiful piece. Thanks for sharing about this book. I can’t wait to pick it up soon. I recently had success with a piece of work that was “not my best” work. I was a little confused until I realized that it served to restart my creative drive after a brief respite. That was the purpose of the piece and the recognition was just a welcome side effect of sharing it. Your words further emphasis this for me. Best of luck on your next entry!
Thank you Tif! You will love that book. You’ll be reading it and think, how did they know I thought that way? Most of us are not the best judge of what is “our best work”. Isn’t great to get a creative restart?
LeeAnna Paylor says
Whether or not it’s your best work, it’s good work. It has a grace about it and you were driven to make it. You must have learned something doing it…. and somehow knew it wouldn’t get it as you were disappointed but not shocked. It’s an interesting phenomenon this art making. Couple that with being judged for it!
The name… I get the pun and it’s a good working title but agree with the person who suggests more meaning in it by a more romantic title. Something that evokes a feeling in people…lead the witness kind of. LeeAnna at not afraid of color
Wow, nice words LeeAnna-thank you! I like that perspective-“good work”. About the title-yes, it needs some emotion. DH will help me find a better title.
I love your quilt as well. I love the sheer look. good luck next time.
Thank you Sabrina-I do think I’ll keep it in my rotation and see what happens.
M.D. Johns says
I think the quilt name is rather clever and inspired. Of course, I spent my life writing for a living and I enjoy a play on words. I’m not much of a quilter, but I’m in awe of this piece. Keep entering it!
M.D. I love your perspective! Thank you.
Margaret Lee says
Hi Jenny I love the way you made this piece, something different. Maybe if you back light it it would show the transparency better. Here in Australia we have very talented quilters/artists like yourself. Keep on designing, I personally love the diversity of our hobby/job.
Oh thank you for the encouraging comment Margaret! I do agree that a better photo would help show the transparency.
Sharon Burns says
The piece is lovely. That being said, I wonder if you not having this professional photographed did not make it appear as though you were taking the process seriously.
Just a thought.
Sharon that is such a good point. I do need it professionally photographed-if I could just find someone in my area!I hadn’t thought of it the way you mentioned-thank you!
It wasn’t until I read the comments that I understood the title of the piece to be “Backstory,” I thought it was titled “Not My Best Work” since that kept popping up in quotes. ? I think Backstory is a fine name and the piece is beautiful. The cut work is amazing, the color combo is pretty and I like the different fabric textures together
I appreciate your comments Susan. It helps me with the title. If it’s perceived as a negative comment on the piece then I want to change the title to a more contemplative one.
ROSA NUÑEZ BARAKA says
Tu trabajo es espectacular , el echo de que lo hayan rechazado , no tiene que hacerte sentir mal , simplemente tienen unos ojos que no ven ni aprecian la hermosura de algunos trabajos .Felicidades .
Thank you Rosa-I still see it as good work, just not my best. I am not letting rejection affect me-my art goes on no matter what! Your comment is appreciated.
Mary Crickard says
Jenny, as others have said, it’s a beautiful piece. I admire your bravery in putting it out there for others to judge, especially after it was rejected. Thank you for sharing the conception and execution. I can’t comment on how the judges viewed it. No doubt it was a strong category. However, in my eyes this piece is a winner because you have demonstrated that we can rise above the pain (and it is pain of sorts) of rejection. I hope that you found some catharsis in sharing this. Thank you.
Thank you Mary. I have moved on because I know rejection is a part of all this. I do like the piece too!
Marilyn J Kanne says
Opinion — even that of a revered expert — is merely the conclusion of one person’s response at a moment in time. It might reflect recent experience, or a lifetime’s accrued knowledge. Given your two entries, and how they fared at this event, serves to remind us how differently art may be perceived [judged] by others. I might have reversed the placements. Thank you for sharing this experience, as an excellent example of the challenge one faces any time we place our art under the scrutiny of others.
Thank you Marilyn. I am at peace with the decision. I do wonder how hard it must be to be a juror or judge!
Inger Blood says
Lovely piece, can’t wait to see it! Hopefully you can put it into The Folsom show.
“Not your best work” I think we all have that phrase in our head, but do we really know what is our best work?
I think Van Gogh created “Starry Night” in 45 minutes. If he only knew!
Thank you Inger! It will be in the Folsom show. Um, I do think Van Gogh is in a different category! But I do get that concept-you work hard for years and get to the point that you can crank out something beautiful very quickly-you hone your talent. Still working on that one.
Thanks for sharing that quote–I have read the same thought in other books. It is hard to remember, though. Even as I work on some things, that phrase “not my best work” is running a loop through my back burner :)
I like your quilt and I think the name is fine. The name implies a bit of mystery to me–perfect! I have enough wool hanging around, and I love the idea of a sheer back. I will have to try it sometime. I’m pretty sure, though, that it will not be my best work :)
Thanks Debby-gave me a giggle. Best work is a fleeting concept. I just try to dismiss those thoughts entirely.
Rebecca Grace says
One more thought to add to the mix: Sometimes whether or not art is accepted into a show has more to do with how your piece fits into the current aesthetic that judges and audiences are looking for right this minute than it has to do with the artistic merit of the piece itself. Even though Mom’s Lily Bed may not be your favorite piece, I definitely see a connection between that quilt and other quilts that have been taking top awards recently. The Backstory piece is something completely different. So, perhaps it is just out of sync with what judges are looking for TODAY. Claude Monet was rejected by the Paris Salon repeatedly, along with the rest of the Impressionists, not because their work was bad but because it wasn’t what the Powers That Be were expecting. So maybe the title and the photography could be improved, but it could also be a case of it just not being the right time or the right show for this particular quilt. I think it’s cool and I hope to see you exploring more with quilts and sheers!
Thank you Rebecca Grace-I do get that my work may not fit in with the total look of the show. My work usually does not play well with others. I just make it, submit it, and sometimes I’m juried in, sometimes not. I do think I’ll be doing more with wool and sheers-it’s just so cool!