How to cope with your art being rejected

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By Julia Oak

As well as support and an online platform, Outside In offers its artists opportunities to submit to exhibitions, commissions, training courses and more. However, there are often only a limited number of places on these opportunities, and so at some point an Outside In artist might find themselves experiencing a rejection. In this piece, Outside In artist Julia Oak writes about how to manage rejection and shares her strategies for coping. Don’t give up!


I went for a walk on-line at, starting with the word ‘rejection’; this led to ‘exclusion’ and within two more steps I had reached ‘isolation’ via ‘segregation’.

From Outside In ‘terms and conditions’ the first statement identifies who is eligible to take part

  • We support artists who feel that they face barriers to the art world. This could be because they have a health problem or a disability, are socially isolated or otherwise unable to take part in the art world.

By the nature of the people who are eligible to take part there is a very strong chance that we have already had more than our fair share of rejection.

It is a credit to Outside In that they have created a safe environment for artists to consider entering into competition with other artists, however only a few out of the hundreds who enter are accepted, leaving many to face the rejection letter.



‘Evacuated’ by Julia Oak


So how do we cope with our art being rejected when it resonates so strongly with our ‘lived experiences’?


The first time I was rejected I went to my on-line artists gallery and deleted all my images and only just managed to stop myself deleting my page. I then had a physical cull of my artwork. I felt that if nobody saw my artwork then it could not be rejected. I found a way to take control of my isolation.

Do I recommend this strategy for others?


And why not?

Because I fell back into isolation and that meant not sharing my work. It took me a year to upload my artwork again and I spent that year not promoting my artwork anywhere. It was a case of one step forward and two backwards, along with plenty of ruminating about the quality of my work and my own self worth.

The next submission I made saw me rejected again, and so it went on.



‘Owls’ by Oak Mills Sussex Artists (which Julia is part of)


In my latest effort to take part in a competitive opportunity I joined with three other people and made a joint application. We were not successful.

However, this time I had built in a few strategies to protect myself:

  1. Making a joint submission meant that I had shared the process with other people. I now realise that this would help even if we had made individual submissions.
  2. There was a camaraderie about the submission process, whilst preparing our work we all met regularly and talked about what we where doing.
  3. On the deadline day we all met for a shared breakfast and then handed our submission in together.
  4. At breakfast we planned a follow up meeting, once the results where known, to have afternoon tea together, regardless of our success.
  5. We identified that our submission was done to the best of our ability and was a success in its own right. We had already achieved more than previously by making the submission.


So this worked for me this time, I do not feel so deflated and personally rejected as in previous attempts at competition, but I appreciate this is something that has worked for me and may not be suitable for everyone.

It has allowed us to move on quicker and we are now considering exhibiting independently.

I haven’t written this article with the intention of providing the definitive answers to dealing with rejection but rather as a springboard to encourage others to share how they manage to deal with being rejected from artists’ competitions.

I know its not easy, I know sharing has helped.


Julia will be speaking at the European Outsider Art Association Conference from 4-6th May at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. Tickets cost £150 for the whole weekend. Read more about the conference and purchasing a ticket here.

Header image: Julia Oak, Woods

4 Comments about this

  1. Phil Baird

    Dear Julia I tried to post a comment about your piece I hope you received it please not ify and will resend if necessary? a difficulty with URL what ever that is? I suppose a try try and try again sort of approach best from Phil B

      • Phil Baird

        Dear Julia thank you for posting your experiences It is trough our mistakes that we learn. Also a collective approach can help and indeed Outside in is a great collective that provides such support. I like your strong Owl collective piece and your robust personal work. So in the words of Bob Dylan Keep on Keeping on. Best from Phil B.

  2. Julia Oak

    Thank you, Phil. I hope by talking about being rejected from art submissions will help others. Sometimes the fear of rejection stops us taking part in the first place. I hope people share their ideas on what has helped them.

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