photo: Judy Ferrara
Photo Credit: Tracy Raphaelson




April 2005

If one's work automatically finds acceptance, there may be a possibility that it could be improved.
John Ashbery, Reported Sightings: Art Chronicles 1957-1987, David Bergman, editor.



Dear Reader,

It is mid-March and the postman is chugging up the road as I write. Today's raging snowstorm reminds me of the day decades ago when, after a snowy ride home from work, an acceptance letter waited for me in the mailbox (March 2005 Judy's Journal).

It is true that acceptance feels better than rejection. If I allow myself fifteen minutes of consolation when my work is rejected, then it makes sense to bask in the warmth of acceptance for at least that much time, no matter what John Ashbery meant when he wrote the above words.

At first glance, there does not seem to be a lot to learn from either one, except to say that all acceptances (or rejections) are not equal. Acceptance of one's artwork or writing is the result of others' valuing of it, so I can say this much: my work satisfied a particular and frequently mysterious set of criteria. As with rejection, there is very little revealed in written notifications. Therefore, depending on how much I know about the publication, the competition, the editor, the juror or the screening committee, I usually have no way of teasing out the meanings behind their decisions. It seems as futile as guessing what remains hidden behind Door Number Three.

So what have I noticed about acceptance? First, my relationship with the judge/editor will be extended briefly. It will not include acting upon my first impulse, which is to find her or him, and at least shake hands. If acceptance comes in the form of a telephone call, I can at least express myself more completely; I have been known to scream, laugh, and cry-sometimes all three.

After sending my biographical information, artist's statement, and/or permission to publish, weeks or months pass before the exhibition or the poem's appearance in a journal. What I have noticed is that once I am standing at the reception talking with another artist, or am finally holding the journal, the sense of exhilaration has long gone. I might carefully examine the rest of the artwork exhibited or read everyone else's work except mine. I do not take the opportunity to second guess editors/judges and figure out where my work fits into their scheme, or even what the scheme was in the first place. After writing this journal, my plans now include taking some time to think more about this.

Second, after looking back at poems and paintings that were accepted years ago, I have noticed how my work has changed. Seeing its evolution through the lens of acceptance makes me grateful that someone would even consider my earlier work. In other words, the longer I write and paint, the more I appreciate how much there is to learn and the fact that I am learning some of what there is to know.

When I type the credit into my résumé, I feel the closure of acceptance. But what does my work being in a journal or exhibit really mean? I believe that what I am learning about art and writing is cumulative, so learning my craft becomes the more important part of the creative process. The accepted work becomes one link in a large chain link fence. More instructive were the failures, the multiple drafts, the layers of paint-gone-wrong under the ones that went right. Editors, judges and jurors do not see those failures, only the more successful results that I have decided to send them.

Up to this point, I have focused on acceptance by others. I will end with the following question: where does one's acceptance of one's own work fit in? William Stafford said, "The assessment of the product is something that happens after you've done it." Self-evaluation is a continuous dance of acceptance and rejection. I can do the steps in my sleep. However, I will never get accustomed to what happens when a piece is completed, and I feel that it is one of my strongest artistic expressions to date. I tremble.

I know that when I return to easel or computer, I will think, "That might never happen again. I will get lost in improved technique, balanced phrases, and killer last lines and not be able to produce something fresh, something ripped from my insides, something unexpected. Something to which John Ashbery might say, 'You went beyond what you knew was praiseworthy. You kept at it.'" In other words, I need to examine and trust the creative process and know that acceptance is not the end of anything, but part of a continuum.

If you have stories or strategies that help celebrate acceptance or even put a sober face on it, send an email message to me: May's journal will be an "Amsterdam Diary" because, finally, I will be going there. Canals, tulips, museums-all waiting for me and my clunky, black museum shoes.