Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Thursday, May 15, 2008


It's that time, again: the week when nature artists across the globe check their mailboxes for their jury results from Birds In Art, the premier annual exhibition of bird art sponsored by the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin. One hundred of those artists will receive the "big envelope," filled with forms that need to be filled out, and instructions for shipping their work to the museum. The remaining 500 of us receive the "small envelope," containing an encouraging pat-on-the-back and better-luck-next-time.

This year I submitted two works, Blue-crowned Motmot and Langsdorff's Coralsnake (above), and my ink wash painting of a poisoned Peregrine, Stargazing (below).
Yesterday, a second search of my PO Box revealed a slim envelope with the museum's return address, which, more often then not, is what I get from them. This was my 20th Birds In Art submission, and my 15th rejection--75% failure--not exactly a stellar record.
Last year I got lucky, and my magpie painting, Crash-barrier Waltzer (above), was selected for the show, after having been rejected the previous year. This year it was submitted for Art & the Animal, the big annual exhibition of the Society of Animal Artists. Results should be here in a week or so. I like this piece, and have high hopes that it will be included in A&TA, but art jurying is a subjective thing that can't be forecast. The juror considers a number of factors that are out of the artist's control. Besides looking for quality work, the total exhibition must be considered. Too many times, when jurying a show, I've had to reject art that I liked in the service of an overall show that was diverse, yet cohesive. Our own personal biases come in to play as well, and these can change from one day to the next. The same jury would come up with quite different results if they met a week later.

As artists, we can't take rejection too seriously, and likewise, can't pretend that accolades and awards mean more than they do. It's a common thing to see an artist receive a rejection for a work they're very proud of, and refuse to apply for that exhibition again. This, of course, hurts no one but themselves. Rejection remains a companion throughout one's career (at least that's been my experience), and it's important to learn to live with it. I can claim to be a rather ridiculous example of tenacity: I started submitting my work to juried shows at age 18, and received my first acceptance just a few months shy of my 30th birthday.
I consider last year's painting of an Oustalet's Chameleon, Sprawl (above), to be one of the best in my catalog, but that opinion doesn't appear to be widely shared. It was rejected by the 2007 Art & the Animal jury, and by this year's Artists for Conservation jury. Just the other day, though, I received the happy news that it's been accepted into Art of the Animal Kingdom, an annual exhibition which will be installed at the Bennington Center for the Arts in June.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did it occur to you that all those rejections might be because your paintings are so awful?
signed, A Real Artist

12:15 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Dear A.R.A. - Sure, of course that always occurs to me. Delusions of grandeur are as artistically destructive as rejection-inspired fits of pique, and you could do me a great service by pointing out the specific inadequacies you see in my work. Thanks, as always, for your faithful readership (we've heard from you a time or two before, haven't we?).

8:53 PM  
Blogger Patrick B. said...

Jeez, what's up with that guy??? Well, from this subjective point of view, I think your paintings are stunning. I'm glad to hear you've been accepted to some exhibitions, but sad to hear you're rejected in others. Your perseverence is admirable for sure.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Pearse said...

Carel, I can't believe that you were so gracious to 'Anonymous' who obviously isn't brave enough to post his real name and is hiding behind anonymity. Let's see some of his work - see what makes him a 'Real Artist'. To me, someone who claims to be such is someone who paints from their heart - which 'surprise' is you! Your work has stayed consistantly interesting since the time I have known you and perhaps because of your subject matter, is not for everyone. That does not take anything away from it though - if people can't see the wonder in it, well pity them!

8:30 AM  
Blogger Pamela Underhill Karaz said...

A "real" artist would never be so classless as to post that comment regarding another artists' work no matter how they felt. So knowing that, we can therefore deduce that the impostor probably knows not a thing as far as what "real" art is. I have admired your art ever since first seeing it in Easton. You are a great painter who has a wonderful, distinctive style and who brings to light the many varied creatures you find throughout the world that the average person would never be aware of... and that is why your art is widely admired amongst your contemporaries. I too would not have been so gracious in my response...

4:01 PM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Patrick, Jeremy and Panama: Ah, let him have his fun. Thanks, nonetheless, for all of your kind words. It's nice to know I have folks I respect in my corner.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I REALLY like the Chameleon piece myself. I'm reminded by your first commenter of the very first comment I ever got when I put up my first blog post back in 2005. It simply said "YOU SUCK". Specifics people, specifics!

A real old artist.

9:49 PM  

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