Insights on Applying for Things and Getting Rejected.

12.1 / In/With/For the Public

Insights on Applying for Things and Getting Rejected.

By Jenifer K Wofford January 26, 2020

Competitive opportunities are not about awarding some universally agreed upon notion of “quality.” There’s no such thing. They’re about whether your agenda and experience as an artist meshes well with the agenda of the selection committee. Contending with rejections can be daunting, but it’s 100% the reality of a professional artist.

An application is a craft that needs to be honed like any other skill—with practice, repetition, trial and error. It gets better and easier each time. I’ve been both accepted and rejected for opportunities many times. It took time to figure out my shortcomings and my strengths as an applicant. I definitely learned a ton from being a juror.

Based on being on both sides of the process, here are some step-by-step suggestions.

First:
Do your homework: compatibility matters. Be real about the application you intend to submit for. Does your experience or proposal seem like a good potential match for the gig? 

Next:
Make your materials a joy and a breeze to get through. PLEASE.

How to do this? Read and respect the criteria and format guidelines for the application! Good God! It’s so frustrating watching fellow artists shoot themselves in the foot so unnecessarily by ignoring this basic expectation. 

Assume that everyone on the committee is tired, cranky, impatient, and looking at a huge stack of applications. Jurors are trying to do right by you, but they are often bleary-eyed after reviewing piles of work, and become justifiably impatient with meandering, disorganized applications.

They are selecting artists based on specific criteria. Make it as easy for them as possible to see how your 100% non-annoying proposal fits this.

So:

  • Don’t lie about yourself or your work.
  • When there’s a specific prompt, respond to it.
  • Write coherent, concise descriptions of your work and your proposal.
  • Respect word counts.
  • Respect video time limits. Edit accordingly.
  • Image files -> consistent quality and size.
  • All files labeled and numbered according to the exact format requested.
  • Recommendation letters -> ask at least a month in advance.
  • Have a trusted/experienced friend review your application honestly and critically.
  • If you can’t handle any of this, take a workshop or hire a grant writer.
  • Make sure to profusely thank anyone who helps you. IMPORTANT.
Jenifer K Wofford. Window (Adapted from Point of Departure, 2007), 2019; digital illustration. Courtesy of the Artist.

After you get accepted:
Hooray! Pay attention to what you did well.

After you get rejected:
Yes, it will happen! Feeling disappointment is real, but getting disheartened is pointless. Learn what you can from the process, and don’t give up after a couple of rejections.

Despite your best efforts and qualifications, the selection committee won’t always agree that you’re the right fit. No biggie. On to the next one.

Healthy perspective is important!
Reality check: even highly experienced artists receive only maybe 15% of the opportunities that they apply for. 5-10% is more common. Think of your one rejection as simply a necessary step on the path to improving your odds on the next application.

External validations and competitions are part of a system that has only as much power over your sense of self as you allow. If it’s a system you don’t need or like, don’t participate. If it’s a system you do need, then learn how to flex your practice and your application abilities to respond to its realities.

Know that your creativity and your art practice are always a separate thing of joy, and that you can and will keep making and sharing things, regardless.

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