Face Making

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

What the artist Adrienne Lewis did for me

2014 . 11 . 17 - Comments / Commentaires (8)

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When I discovered that a former classmate was most likely imitating my style, I had no idea how much I would learn from the experience.

On my blog, I talk a lot about the wide brushes I use and their impact on my style, about the influence of wood panels on my painting technique, about how injury and chronic illness affect my art, and generally about how my style evolved. (It’s hard to choose just one post for each of those topics to share with you, because they are all things I love to talk about!)

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

Gwenn Seemel’s David from 2006 and Adrienne Lewis’ The lead singer from 2013
(For more about David, check out this gallery of images.)

For more about Adrienne’s work, check out her website or the original blog post that I wrote about her work, which was a gleeful celebration of imitation.

Gwenn Seemel's art and Hillary Clinton by Adrienne Lewis

detail image of Gwenn Seemel’s Lynn from 2011 as well as the full image of James from 2008 and Maman from 2006
Adrienne Lewis’ Hillary from 2014
(I’ve written more about Lynn and James, and for images from 2006 like Maman check out this gallery of images.)

The next two articles that reference her art—this one and this one—were a little different. They reveal that I was feeling sucked dry by what had happened. It wasn’t pleasant and it even caused me to withdraw from my work for a while.

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

detail image of Gwenn Seemel’s Wade from 2007 and Adrienne Lewis’ Riley from 2014
(The portrait of Wade is painted directly on a canvas bag. For more You Bags, go here.)

My style is imitated quite a bit, but, for the most part, artists who use my art credit its influence publicly, and the value of that recognition is hard to overestimate.

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

detail image of Gwenn Seemel’s Miharas from 2013 and Adrienne Lewis’ portrait of a dog from 2014
(To see the full portrait of the Miharas, go here.)

Because I know that, I talk a lot about the artists whose creativity inspires mine, but I go further as well: I work hard to avoid taking too much from other people’s art. And “too much” is actually very easy to define: all an artist has to do is ask themselves if they’d be okay having their work juxtaposed with the inspiration’s work and shown publicly. Discomfort at the thought of that happening might indicate that the artist is taking too much. For more on that, check out this video.

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

Gwenn Seemel’s Lauan from 2011 and Adrienne Lewis’ Lily from 2014
(To learn about the making of Lauan, go here.)

I’ve had to rethink a few things in my life after discovering Adrienne’s art, but one thing I never thought twice about was my commitment to the public domain. It may feel like you’re having all your energy taken when you’re copied without acknowledgment, but that doesn’t mean that art shouldn’t be shared freely. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to get your energy back.

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

Gwenn Seemel’s Mookie from 2011 and Adrienne Lewis’ portrait of a cat from 2014
(To learn about the making of Mookie, go here.)

I’m about to release a book about why I put my art directly into the public domain. If you want to be notified when it comes out, please email me and I’ll put you on my mailing list.

- -—UPDATE 2014 . 11 . 20—- -
The book is out! It can be read here and purchased here.

- A work’s genealogy / La généalogie d’une œuvre
- Artist Cindi Oldham: an interview about art and imitation
- Being a prolific artist / Être un artiste prolifique

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Business of art - Featuring artists - Reviews - Uncopyright - Video -

Gwenn Seemel on Liberapay     Gwenn Seemel on Patreon

(8) Comments / Commentaires: What the artist Adrienne Lewis did for me

-- Libby Fife -- 2014 . 11 . 17 --


Well said! My observation from what you spoke about and wrote about is that confidence is probably the deciding factor. Do you have enough confidence in your own abilities and work to publicly acknowledge how your art was influenced? And like you mentioned, can you show your work side by side publicly with the work of the person who influenced you?

Incidentally, having a second look at the images side by side was instructive. I can really see what is up. You can’t learn everything by copying though. I see that your post on painting teeth could be revisited. smile

I’d like to know about the upcoming book if you wouldn’t mind adding me to the list.

Thanks again! Another thoughtful post.

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-- Joyce Early -- 2014 . 11 . 18 --

Once again, Gwenn, you simply surprise and delight me with your wonderfully fresh, inquisitive insight into your processes.  You seem so unafraid.  You are so vulnerable in your exposure and yet so inspired by that same vulnerability.  I enjoy your reflections so much.  You so freely teach your art.  And I thank you for sharing.

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-- Roopa Dudley -- 2014 . 11 . 18 --

It reminds me of that infamous quote that I dislike: “Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal”. The aftermath is that an artist whose style got stolen (you) is left feeling violated and infuriated. While the artist who stole (the style or idea) gets all the glory and enjoys success.

It sure seems to be the way the society works. I have been influenced by many wonderful artists as well as movements with the way I paint and I have no hesitation whatsoever of acknowledging or sharing that openly because to me it does not take away from the fact that my work is MY work. Sometimes I even appreciate the viewer for that attribution/recognition with those artists because I take it as a compliment.

Recently, I too like you experienced Anagnorisis. I came across someone who has been using my ideas in their compositions. Like you, I was not happy to see that I must confess—but at the same time I was flattered to see that my work has/had an impact on this artist. Mixed emotions for sure. I let the Art Historians address this in time. I am choosing to move on and like that lyric by U2 “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”.

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-- Kristina -- 2014 . 11 . 19 --

Yes. Yes. YES.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 11 . 22 --

Thank you, each of you, for your kind words, support, and insights! You make the vulnerability of art-making possible!

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-- Lorraine -- 2015 . 01 . 09 --

While I agree that some of your original examples had an uncanny likeness, I feel like this particular issue is getting tired. You two obviously have similar styles, but there comes a point when a cat looks like any other cat. Drawing attention to a bubble or arrow just seems like nitpicking.

That being said, I respect your general humility regarding the issue.

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 01 . 09 --

I understand your point of view, Lorraine. I’d love to hear more about how you have handled it when another artist has copied your work and denied the influence. I think it’s so important to share useful models for coping with this hurtful behavior!

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-- Gwenn -- 2015 . 01 . 09 --

I’ve just been told that what I said a few hours ago could come across the wrong way, and I’m sorry if it did! Whether or not you have encountered this issue personally, Lorraine, what do you think the best way for coping is?

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