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Lucky To Be An Artist?

Some people look at my life and say that I am lucky. I create art for a living, have a successful studio business, am married to my best friend, and have a large following of fans and art collectors from all around the world. I really love the work that I do, and I spend a lot of time feeling ridiculously fortunate to be in that position.

As much as some people like to say that I’m lucky, luck had nothing to do with it.

I do believe that sometimes timing, circumstance, serendipity, and privilege play into the choices you make, but even then, your deliberate action determines the course of your life.

People don’t get to do what they want for a living, get awards, come out in newspapers, or get the things they want in life simply because they are lucky. I feel like it is insulting to tell someone they are lucky when they achieve something awesome in life. Luck rarely has anything to do with what actually goes on behind the scenes.

I personally get inspired by stories of long rejection runs. For example the story of Haim Saban, who spent 8 years pitching Power Rangers. Whenever Saban presented the Power Rangers pilot, network execs would ask, “Why do you embarrass yourself with this?” Eventually, someone picked it up and the Power Rangers has been a tremendous success for 30 plus years.

  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by about 12 different publishers.
  • After just one performance, Elvis Presley was fired by Jimmy Denny, and told, “You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
  • Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before it was published.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film, and Television, THREE TIMES.

Rejection has everything to do with opinion and nothing to do with fact. Power Rangers was rejected by networks because it looked cheap and there was nothing else like it out there to compare it to. They could not SEE beyond the scope of what they knew and based their rejection on popular opinion. Rejection is simply an opinion based on the limit of that particular person’s imagination, or they just don’t like your particular brand of stuff, either way, rejection is all part of the game.

Most times, the success that you see is just the tip of the iceberg. What you see accomplished is only a tiny proportion of what that “lucky” person TRIED to accomplish.

If by “luck”, you mean putting yourself out there — all the time — into situations where you are probably going to be rejected, fail, or make a fool of yourself, then yes… you are on the right track.

A lot of people ask me how I got to where I am in life. As if there is some secret formula or answer to getting lucky. Usually, I tell them, “The hard way.” I honestly don’t feel like it is supposed to be easy, I think the suck is all part of the journey and what makes it so beautiful.

To illustrate what I mean, here’s a list of just some of the things I have been rejected for over the last 10 years. See if you can find the inspiration behind the rejection or failure.

  • I was rejected the first time I entered a juried gallery show.
  • Launching my art career was a failure for 2 years.
  • I was rejected for at least 143 commission projects.
  • I was rejected from the first gallery I approached.
  • I failed at launching a YouTube channel for about 5 years in a row.
  • I was rejected the first time I applied for a juried art festival.
  • I failed at traveling the country, still have several states to go.
  • I was rejected the second time I entered a gallery show.
  • My first 4 websites were epic failures.
  • I’ve been rejected for large community art events.
  • I’ve had at least 19 large art proposals rejected.
  • I’ve been rejected from art conferences when pitching as a speaker, I would put the number close to 60.
  • I have been rejected by many award judges. I’ve won 5 out of 500.
  • I failed epically the first time I showed my art at my own event.
  • I have been rejected by at least 200 businesses that I have approached with my art.
  • I was rejected by a museum for a proposal for an art and music event.
  • I’ve had countless art that has been rejected.
  • I’ve had countless art failures, just about every day.
  • I was rejected when I tried to talk to people at a black-tie event (one dude even turned his nose up at me).
  • I’ve been rejected by art cliques who don’t like that I’m from out of town.
  • I was rejected when I applied for Twitter verified (I know how ridiculous this makes me sound).
  • I am rejected most days by commentators on YouTube who don’t like my BRILLIANT videos.
  • I have been rejected by art associations who think my work is sub-par.
  • I have been rejected by many collectors when I show new forms of work.
  • I have been rejected for several large mural proposals.
  • I have been rejected for large international commissions.
  • I have had my ideas rejected by people who are in charge of an art event.

Each one of these was a blow, and that’s not even the full list, we’d be here ALL day.

Being rejected or failing is shit. It’s hard not to take it personally, and to keep going when it feels like a consistent barrage of ‘nope’ and ‘EPIC FAILS’.

But the only way to do the awesome stuff is to put yourself out there. To put yourself in a place where you might get rejected, constantly. To be in a place where you might fail big.

Everything doesn’t always come up roses, and I am not told yes every time I want to do something. That is ridiculous. It is also ridiculous to quit just because you failed, or get your feelings hurt because you were rejected. That’s why I keep going — ALL the time. I apply for things, I try things, I put myself out there. I make a huge effort to go for almost everything that piques my interest and pushes at my comfort zones.

Rafi Perez Painting Seed

I’ve been at this for 10 years and can tell you that it takes time to get to a place where you will have people call you “lucky”. Years upon years of rejection and failures that don’t ever end. Sometimes it will feel overwhelming, and you’ll have to become your biggest cheerleader to get through. But that is how you get there, you just have to do it and quit stalling to avoid failure and rejection.

Success means that you failed and were rejected more than anyone else. Growth means that you will always be facing rejection and failure throughout your career. If you are not, then you are not growing.

I’m not going to tell you to learn to love rejection because it really sucks. I will say, however, if you aren’t getting rejected every now and again, then you’re not putting yourself out there and you are not being as awesome as you can be.

Only awesome people know the sting of rejection and embrace it.

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Become A Creative Failure To Succeed

Have you ever had someone tell you that you weren’t good enough, that you’ll never make it, or that you would fail? If you have, then welcome to the club, this is a good place to be so don’t fret.

I think we all have some of those people in our lives, that either verbally or quietly disapprove of what they consider our childish ambitions. The truth is that anything that is outside of the norm is considered childish most of the time.

It’s interesting to me that most artists that are revered today for ushering in a new era of art, were considered losers by the art establishments in their day. We usually write this off by saying that the artist was ahead of his time, but I think it has more to do with perseverance than anything else.

Van Gogh

Today, we consider Vincent Van Gogh to be one of the greatest and most influential painters of all time, but that wasn’t the case when he was alive. Van Gogh’s work received little to no recognition during his lifetime. His paintings were often described as being too dark and lacking the bright liveliness seen in Impressionist paintings of the time.

The funny thing is that Monet’s Impressionist paintings were rejected before they became popular as well. His work and other Impressionists’ paintings were rejected by society and art exhibitions because it went against the traditional style and method of painting.

Claude Monet
Painting By Monet Rejected By The Paris Salon

Even Picasso was highly criticized by his peers quite often because some of his paintings diverged from the divergent artist movements that were happening already.

The fact is that each one of these artists embraced their craft and just kept creating despite what people were telling them. They painted what they painted because they wanted to, not because it was popular. Eventually, they had a large body of work that just could not be ignored.

Paris Salon

Vincent Van Gogh died poor, having only sold one painting to a friend in his lifetime, but he also died young. I think had he lived longer he would have found fame like any other creative person that perseveres through what I call the dark years.

No matter what you want to do in your life, I think if you don’t give up, you’ll get there. If you keep going, creating, and moving forward there is no way you can truly fail. If you quit, it’s like closing a fairy tale book before getting to the end. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a happy ending, you just stopped reading before actually getting there.

Stephanie's Mermaid By Rafi Perez
One of my paintings, because… why not??

People around you are going to tell you that you will fail, and they’re right, but failure is a temporary stretch of road that can lead to a happy ending. But, you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Watch me talk about other creative geniuses who were considered losers in this video: