By Shirley-Ann O’Neill

Dealing with disappointment is one of the toughest lessons that artists have to navigate. Your artwork is a part of you, so it can sometimes feel personal not to achieve a particular desired outcome. Artistic disappointment comes in all shapes and sizes, big and small. You don’t get selected for a show, your artwork doesn’t get published in the media, you don’t sell at an exhibition or your social media doesn’t gain traction. Some are easier to shake off than others.

Disappointment can be a good thing. It can be an opportunity for growth and to gain valuable feedback. It is worth remembering, when decisions are made it may not be a reflection of your artistic talent, perhaps there is a better suited artist or the timing is not right.  Learning how to gain perspective and reframe your disappointment is an important skill.

It is essential to learn how to deal with disappointment as opposed to avoiding disappointment. Disappointment is an inevitable part of the process to achieving creative success

As an artist you can reframe how you view disappointment in a number of ways:

  • Play the numbers game. If you have several irons in the fire, you won’t place all of your hopes on one individual outcome. Get busy refocusing your energy on the next opportunity to get visible; the next show or exhibition. Sometimes better opportunities can appear when you have space. There is an opportunity cost to everything we do. Be curious for the next door that is about to open.


  • Play the context game. Graciously accept that some curve balls are to be expected. They are not a matter of life or death. Read the obituaries pages or watch the news. Be thankful you don’t have bigger problems to contend with.


  • Play the gratitude game. Think of all of the great feedback that you have received (keep it in a journal). All of the positive encounters you have experienced. If you are really struggling, have a break. Spend some time with loved ones or reach out to people who appreciate you. Enjoying life always gives us context, not to take everything so seriously.  You are blessed.


  • Play the probabilities game. The chances of you being born are roughly one in 400 trillion according to scientists. Everything else is trivial. You are a miracle!


  • Play the time game. An artist called Grandma Moses started painting in earnest at 78 and initially charged $5 dollars for a painting. She lived to 101 and her works sell for over $1m. You have enough time.


  • Play the so what game. In five years, will it matter and will you remember it? Chances are it doesn’t and you won’t.


  • Play the expectations game. Keep your expectations low and do the work anyway. Disappointment is just your brain re-adjusting  to your expectations not being met yet.



Finally, allow yourself to feel your disappointment, but not overindulge and it will often dissipate quicker. Wherever possible try to reach out for more empowering thoughts. It can be helpful to be part of a supportive artists community, as your peers can always help you gain perspective and move forward.


We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.                                                                                                                                               Martin Luther King Jnr