The View from the Bottom (or at Least from the Outside)

This email was in my box earlier:

Hello Brian,

Thanks for your postcard on “In a Place Where Pigs Fly.” I have bad news for you. The jurors did not pick your work for the L**** W*** Grant. Let me know if you have any questions about it. Overall, the jurors had a hard time to understand the boxes as an art object rather than a loose collection of images. A letter and a press release about the grant recipients is in the mail to you.

Best wishes,
H**** F****

When so downed, I like to read this poem by William Stafford, a favorite for years (since I am so often let down):

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.


I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and

there are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.

William Stafford

The letter and press release soon followed the email:

If you’ve never seen or gotten a form rejection letter, this is what they all look like. The sentence, “We received many well-qualified applications, which made the selection of just three recipients extremely difficult,” is in each of them. In this particular letter, they didn’t change the recipient’s address, so the address on top is the person whom the letter was addressed to before it was addressed to me.

I’m not sure whether I’m a dumb-ass or just suck, but either way I’m living much of my life somewhere I don’t belong. I spend too much of my life fooling myself, trying to convince myself otherwise. If often seems ironic to me that I teach art. Invariably, each year a student asks me about “being an artist,” or “surviving as an artist.” I typically give a canned response about figuring out your own way, and it’ll be different for each person. The truth of the matter, however, is that I simply don’t know. Despite 9 years of seeking and applying, I’m about 0-147 for grants, residencies, and publications. I don’t even remember the last time I sold a print. It’s been at least 6 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever sold anything at a real price. Typically, I lose thousands of dollars each year pursuing my photography; it’s a labor of love, or maybe an addiction. I’ve had two galleries take on my work, but both dumped me. I make pictures everyday that time and money allow, but aside from that I don’t know a thing. I have nothing to work for or with except my own love of pictures.

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2 thoughts on “The View from the Bottom (or at Least from the Outside)

  1. i’ve been “rejected” so many times that i’m inspired to curate a “rejection show”, which will consist of:

    -rejections letters
    -specific works that have been rejected
    -work made in lieu of break-ups
    -work about rejection

    i just need a venue and participants i guess.
    one day…

    anyway, typically these curators have specific ideas of what they’re looking for,
    which can really censor the variety of art shown. it’s almost stupid–what’s the point of showing the same type of shit all the time? you become desensitized to it and often disagree with their decisions anyway (e.g.–the new museum in february– my coworker said it was so disappointing he wanted to cry. we just walked out–it would’ve been better if we brought a lunch and just hung out on the roof the whole time).

    although sometimes it’s something as simple as there’s a limited amount of space and your work literally doesn’t fit–which is also not a reflection on you. i don’t know–it’s difficult to guage what the reality is, but ultimately you’re not a dumbass or even close.

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