Displayed on the stark white walls are 33 letters sent to art galleries, jobs and art programs. 33 letters of hope asking for an opportunity, for just one chance. 33 letters respond with encouraging words, but no words of acceptance.
And there are many more.
Rejection hurts. Few would argue that hearing the word, “no” can damage the soul—and it happens to everyone.
Sacramento artist, Arthur Gonzalez, revealed his way of dealing with rejection as an artist in his exhibit, “The Art of Rejection,” currently showing in the Kondos Gallery at City College.
Now, letters of rejection that have been converted into art pieces line the walls of Kondos Gallery. What began as a way to deal with continued dismissal turned into a story of pain, humor and opportunity, said Gonzalez at a discussion panel with John Natsoulas, founder and owner of the John Natsoulas Center for the Arts, at Kondos Gallery Oct. 10 to celebrate the exhibit.
Gonzales says he didn’t initially think of the rejection letters as a future art exhibit.
“They [the letters] were never intended to be seen by anyone except me,” said Gonzalez. “It just sort of happened.”
The drawings vary from cartoonish to realistic, and range from bright with color to shadowy with blacks and whites. Gonzalez uses watercolors, pencils and colored
pens. Some of the characters appear sad, distracted or lonely, others appear to be in a state of self-reflection and yet others seem to be looking to the future. Still others reveal determination in their drawn
faces, ready to keep pushing onward.
In each letter Gonzalez draws the eye to a different word, but it soon becomes apparent the words are repeating themselves. The words, “although,” “sadly,” “unfortunately” and “however,” pepper the letters with their negativity. However, Gonzalez transcends rejection through the exasperation and humor in his drawings. Even when his name is spelled wrong, he says he laughs in the faces of those who have told him, “No.”
It can be daunting for artists to face rejection from prospective galleries, jobs or programs.
Natsoulas, longtime friend of Gonzalez, says he appreciates this fear when looking for art to display in his gallery. Saying, “no, this doesn’t work for us,” is part of the business, he said.
“For a lot of artists, this is a great way to deal with rejection, to make it into art,” said Natsoulas.
Gonzalez talks about rejection like he is talking about an old friend. Being rejected was hard he says, but all of those refusals opened up doors he never knew he wanted opened.
“We [artists] do all of this to get that one thing because we aren’t smart enough to know what that one thing is,” Gonzalez said with a laugh.
As he was finishing his Master’s Degree in figurative sculpting at University of California, Davis, Gonzales says, he began searching for the next step. He received countless rejections from galleries and residencies until one “yes” came along from the University of Georgia, Athens. And it was there where he was supposed to be, he said.
After his time at the University of Georgia, Gonzalez said he felt anxious about the next big job, or gallery exhibit or show. Who would take him on? Again he sent out eight letters and received back seven rejections, he said. The one acceptance was from a gallery in New York City that wanted to represent him, but only if he moved there. So he did.
“I’m glad I got seven rejections because New York changed my life,” Gonzales said.
Having the exhibit in the Kondos Gallery is a great way to show students how to handle rejection, he said. It is a large world full of “no,” and Gonzalez says his message to them is to keep searching for what inspires them.
Other artists agree with this idea.
“We want the students to embrace rejection,” said Michael Stevens, Kondos Gallery curator. “To learn that rejection is not always a bad thing.”
As art students at City College prepare to show their work to the outside world, they need this type of encouragement from older, more experienced artists like Gonzalez. To know a professional artist has been said, “no” to so many times can inspire young artists to keep moving forward even if their art is not what someone else may want.
“I am totally scared of rejection,” said Brittany Kozitza, 20, studio art and psychology major. Kozitza says she hasn’t given her art the opportunity to be turned down.
“On the one hand, it is their opinion,” Kozitz says about those who might not like her art. “But I am afraid it won’t be good enough for some people.”
But Gonzalez says rejection in one area creates opportunity in another.
“What is opportunity? Opportunity is being able to realize a life in art,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez says he’s been able to create opportunities for himself by embracing the rejection from others.
“You can have a filing cabinet of rejections before you get to where you want to be,” said Gonzalez. “You can’t let rejection stop you.”
“Art of Rejection” runs until Nov. 2 at the Kondos Gallery.