Rejected. We’ve all been there, whether that’s by your dream job, a love interest, a sports team or even the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is an annual event hosted in London. As one of the world’s oldest and largest open-submission exhibitions, with some 16,500 entries per year and only 1,613 making it to the final cut (as of 2023), the competition is fierce. 

The Summer Exhibition dates back to 1769 when the RA was founded by King George III. The exhibition aimed to provide a platform for both emerging and established artists to display their work to the public. The selection process is rigorous, with works chosen by a panel of Royal Academicians who review the thousands of pieces submitted each year and curate the final exhibition. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition has played a significant role in shaping the British art scene with the likes of J.M.W Turner, Jeremy Deller, and Cornelia Parker having exhibited with the exhibition. However, there is always another side to the story…


‘A glorified car boot sale, this 18th-century relic is overdue for a refit’. (Kubick 2023)

Described as a ‘horror vaccui’, (fear of empty spaces) the cluttered curation of the exhibition detracts from the best works and creates what I would describe as the visual representation of sensory overload. Though Art Friend does not agree with this sentiment it is evident that an alternative option is necessary for the 15,000 artists who are rejected each year.

REJECTS by Art Friend is an exhibition which aims ‘to give as many artists rejected [from the RA Summer Exhibition] the opportunity to exhibit their works, with a specific focus on emerging artists’. But, what does being a reject mean to you? Art Friend asked their audience this very question. With responses varying from the pessimistic -  ‘unworthy’ - to the opportunistic - ‘have hope, keep going and try the next one’ - it is clear that everyone has their own relationship with rejection. By reframing rejection in a positive light, REJECTS encourages disheartened artists to turn their dismay into a new and exciting opportunity and to engage with other rejected artists while exhibiting their vetoed works. But don’t just take our word for it! 

Artists involved in REJECTS 2023 stated: 

‘Last year was such a positive experience to showcase my art alongside so many talented artists. Being part of such a visually strong show with a diverse understanding of what art can be, it felt very much its own show, both creative and provoking as well as making a positive out of what can feel a bit of a low moment.’ - Gavin Dobson

‘REJECTS is all about reframing rejection positively. Art Friend offered an opportunity to showcase my work because it had not been selected by the RA. For artists left behind when the RA doors shut, Shona and her team are there to open another door. In its inaugural year, REJECTS felt like a rebellious act of celebrating our shared rejection. It was a highlight for me as an emerging artist, especially as I was fortunate to sell a piece.’ - Cherry McAlister

So, what about the future of REJECTS? 

Shona Bland, the Founder and Curator of Art Friend, would ‘love for rejects to grow each year’. Due to budgeting, Shona has needed to start small but wants REJECTS ‘to grow in size’, perhaps even into ‘multiple shows across the UK’. I cannot wait to see this year’s REJECTS if you can’t either then click HERE to get tickets. 



Written by Phoebe Violet

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