Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about art, portraiture, free culture, and feminism.

Art therapy

2012 . 07 . 21 - Comments / Commentaires (11)

Just over a week ago, I had a laproscopic surgery to treat my endometriosis.

self-portrait photo

Ten days before the operation, I started working on a self-portrait after taking this photograph.

painting a portrait with acrylics

I started the painting despite the fact that the recovery time for my unplanned surgery was going to be eating into the crunch time for my upcoming series among other things.

painting a portrait with acrylics

I started it because before and after images fascinate me and because I was really looking forward to being able to paint an “after” to go with this “before” portrait.

painting a portrait with acrylics

I started it because I needed somewhere to focus the big emotions I was having—big emotions about having my second surgery in three years but also big emotions about facing the very real possibility of losing an ovary.

painting a portrait with acrylics

On the one hand, I was thrilled at the thought of having this particular organ out. After all, the only reason why I was having this operation was because this ovary was, once again, the site of a massive cyst. 

painting a portrait with acrylics

I knew that my doctor had been pleased to save the ovary during my first surgery, and at the time I was pleased too, but, as far as I was concerned, the grace period was over. I didn’t want this ovary to have the chance to grow a third endometrioma.

painting a portrait with acrylics

On the other hand, I was strangely scared of losing a body part. I mean, I know I have two and all, but the thought of living the rest of my life without a spare seemed risky.

painting a portrait with acrylics

With all this in my head, I’m surprised that I also managed to have room for a fear of general anesthetic and of the potential complications of the procedure, but I did.

painting a portrait with acrylics

At the same time, I also found space for a new, more visceral awareness of just how fragile life is.

painting a portrait with acrylics

“Fragile” in the breakable sense of the word.

painting a portrait with acrylics

And also “fragile” in the delicate, ephemeral, and intrinsically beautiful sense of the word.


Gwenn Seemel
Fragile (Before)
acrylic on panel
4 x 4 inches

As I look at it now, it’s clear that this self-portrait is more art therapy than art. After all, the process of making this painting is more interesting to me than the result. Working on it was a meditation of sorts, a way of calming myself. What’s more, the finished piece doesn’t really communicate about anything I’ve described in this blog post: from the looks of it, it’s just another self-portrait. 


detail of Fragile (Before)

Sometimes I can work through the hard things in my life in a way that’s useful to others, and sometimes I just end up painting my vagina. There’s nothing wrong with doing the latter, with art therapy. In fact, I think that going through the art therapy part of the process is a necessary step in the creation of art, but that doesn’t mean that the therapy itself is art.

In any case, today I’m starting to paint for the the first time since the operation—painting requires a lot of energy, more than I’ve had in the last week or so. It feels good to be making again.

- On making better art
- Sympathetic magic
- Butterfly

CATEGORIES: - English - Endometriosis - Philosophy - Process images -

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(11) Comments / Commentaires: Art therapy

-- Allison -- 2012 . 07 . 21 --

Wonderful post! You are so brave to share your story, Gwenn. I hope the recovery process after your surgery goes smoothly. Glad you’re back to painting again! Looking forward to seeing your ‘after’ piece as well, if there’s going to be one. Best to you!! Take care, Alli.

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-- Helen -- 2012 . 07 . 22 --

Wonderful images. Thanks for sharing - wish you the best.

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 07 . 22 --

Thank you Alli and Helen!  I’m gettin’ better all the ti-iii-ime! smile

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-- Kelly in AK -- 2012 . 07 . 23 --

Welcome back, I’ve missed you and your posts!  You captured ‘fragile’ amazingly well, your photo looks stronger and more determined than your portrait does, I think the set of your chin in the photo is stronger than in the painting. (or something)

Ages ago, I had some teeth pulled and mourned the loss of body parts. I didn’t need them and they were in the way, but they were still body parts!

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 07 . 24 --

Thank you, Kelly, for all your kind words!  I guess the attachment to body parts does make sense, and it does seem to be a mourning that I’m going through, just as you described it.

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-- Allie -- 2012 . 07 . 26 --

I think it does communicate the feelings in the post - you really emphasized the set of your mouth and a wistfulness in the eyes that are not apparent in the original photo.  I knew that the person in the portrait had a lot on her mind, even before I read the post.  Well done and speedy recovery!

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 07 . 26 --

@Allie: Maybe I underestimate this work because there’s too much emotion involved right now for me to see it clearly.  Thank you for helping me to see it differently!

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-- Sonia -- 2013 . 01 . 21 --

Wonderful work and very inspiring post… I stumbled upon your site because I am looking for inspiration for a serious I am beginning on the feminine organs… I love how you document your process… nice work!

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 01 . 21 --

Thank you, Sonia!  And bon courage with your upcoming series!

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-- Kerrie -- 2017 . 05 . 15 --

Hi Gwenn,

Because your very personally powerful and reflective narritive of anticipating not just surgery, but a repeat surgery, in response to the unpredictability of an on-going health condition, I felt like I did noticed a couple of photos in to the visual evolution of this portrait, I was indeed catching a glimpse of the inner journey you might be experiencing.
Just enough language can do just that when looking at the artist’s work, open it every so slightly, allowing the viewer to see even more deeply into the intention, the process; to consider the artist more substantively, from within one’s own self. Because your words accompanied the work’s visual development, I could verify what my eyes felt drawn to notice.
Likewise, we are pulled out of our own banality and invited to more truly see.

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 05 . 16 --

I’m glad, Kerrie! It’s why I talk about my art and art in general so much, so I’m happy to know it works sometimes. smile

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