It sucks to be rejected. Yes. We all know that. But can there be value in rejection? I think it all depends on how you look at it and how you handle it.
How you look at it... (Cliche alert!)
I think I might have already mentioned the best fortune cookie ever - it said, "If you don't get at least one rejection a day, you're not trying hard enough." That could apply to so many things besides trying to get your work into a gallery - getting a job, dating, etc.
I got another fortune cookie once that said, "The harder you work, the luckier you get."
And then, of course, there's the quote by Wayne Gretsky (I think) that goes something like, "You miss 100% of the shots that you don't take."
OK, enough with the cheesy quotes. You get the idea. You have to blanket the world with your proposals, letters, invitations, press releases, and whatever else you have to advertise and market your work. I've said it before - just stay true to your artistic vision and keep putting your stuff out there. Eventually someone will find it and love it.
So if you like numbers, you can figure out percentages - for example, I sent out 100 brochures and I got 20 outright rejections, 15 positive letters, and 3 possible leads on gallery representation... This can help you determine your future marketing strategies.
How you handle it...
I've heard a lot of different stories about how people handle rejection. I think most artists keep their rejection letters. The ones who "make it" look back on them and remember how hard it was to achieve success. I read about one artist who wallpapered his bathroom with his rejection letters. I love that idea.
One artist posts her rejection (and acceptance!) letters on her blog, Rejection Letters of an Emerging Artist.
The Rejection Collection is a website touted as the "writer's and artist's online source for misery, commiseration, and inspiration." You can submit your rejection letters and describe how they made you feel, and read other artist's rejection letters. Misery loves company! The links page has a lots more good sites to check out. There are other writers and aritsts who actually scan in and post their rejection letters on their websites.
I read somewhere about an artist who, when he received a rejection letter, would send his own rejection letter. Saying something like, "I regret to inform you that I am not accepting rejection letters at this time." Or something like that. Funny.
Personally, I do get a little depressed when I receive a rejection letter from a gallery that I really liked or a show that I really wanted to get into. But I just file it and try to figure out what to do next. Well, that didn't work out, what can I do now?
The only thing that really really bothers me is this (venting alert!) - I send my brochure and a cover letter to galleries that I have researched online. For a while I would often not receive anything back (not even a form letter), so I started to include a SASE. This upped the amount of rejection letters (what was I thinking?), but a couple of galleries have sent back my letter and brochure to me with nothing. Not even a form letter. One of them wrote, "This is not for us," on MY cover letter and sent it back. I realize that gallery people are busy and they get a gazillion submissions a month, but that's just rude!
When I do receive a personalized note, I really appreciate it. I will often email the person to thank them for taking the time to respond personally.
So how do you handle rejection?