Face Making

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

On being an artist and a feminist

2010 . 06 . 21 - Comments / Commentaires (14)

To hear my family tell it, I was a feminist before I was an artist, but I remember the story a little differently.

a book of portraits of the First Ladies

When I was five, I discovered that the United States had never had a female President. And I must have made something of a fuss over it, because my father gave me a book of portraits entitled The First Ladies in order to appease me. Instead of being further outraged that the first wives were supposed to make up for there never having been a first husband, I was thrilled to be given my first book of beautiful art.

In other words I was distracted from my feminist goals by a bit of shiny.

It’s not a proud moment for me, but it is a telling one. My identity as an artist has always come easily to me, but I’ve struggled my whole life to assume more fully my role as an activist for women’s rights. Maybe it’s a function of being a millennial feminist—maybe the cultural waters are muddier these days—or maybe I’m just too scared to be forceful about my feminism.

The truth is that it may not be easy to be an artist, but it’s a whole lot more difficult to be a feminist. Artists are thought of as cranks and scammers, radicals and bad influences, feckless, starving, and utterly unreliable, but at least they aren’t viewed as whiny victims whose ideals are passé and who must, by definition, be unsexy.

The Next President Of The United States

Gwenn Seemel
The Next President
acrylic on denim
34 x 31 inches
(For more information about the making of this painting, visit this post.)

Twenty-some years after the First Ladies entered my life, I am looking to respond to that book and to everything it represents to me. I’m tired of being one of those women who believes in everything that the women’s rights activists from the 1960s (or from the 1860s for that matter) fought for but who sometimes lets inequalities slide in public and then rages in private about those same inequalities while making art about them.

When I call myself a feminist, I want to feel like I feel when I call myself an artist: strong, not vulnerable.

- Grandmotherly / Comme une grand-mère
- “There are however little snakes among the beams.”
- Making change, one image at a time.

CATEGORIES: - English - TOP POSTS - Feminism - Philosophy -

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(14) Comments / Commentaires: On being an artist and a feminist

-- Nancy -- 2010 . 06 . 21 --

I am/was one of those feminists from the 1960s. 

We were abused, ridiculed and dismissed as man-haters, which most of us weren’t.  Some in our own ranks became militant and insisted that those who were serious shouldn’t make the effort to look attractive, but not all of us suscribed to that theory.

We failed to get the ERA passed, but we succeeded in making life easier for those who came after us.

All we ever wanted was equality - same as the civil rights activists and today’s gay/lesbian rights activists.

It’s like a knife to the heart to hear the young women of today dismiss and deny feminism, while enjoying the benefits of our struggles.

But the bottom line is, every time I see a woman become successful, I am reassured that it was all worth it.

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-- Madeline Bishop -- 2010 . 06 . 22 --

I have come very late to feminism.  But the longer I live, I realize that a woman’s role is traditionally to make sure that the male in her life has a good life, to be the “self-sacrificer.”  Somehow, I want to be through with this role.  I want to have time to do my stuff, now that I am in my sixties, but still find myself in the “enabler” role.  Maybe it’s my own fault… but I am working on it.

I would love to learn how to paint better, but the rest of my life, and my obligations get in the way.

So… I just read Gwenn’s blog, admire and study her work, and keep dreaming.

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-- Martyn Chamberlin -- 2010 . 06 . 24 --

So tell me something Gwen…What’s involved in being a feminist? What rights for women do you hope to implement that aren’t currently in place? You guys make it sound like being a feminist is awfully hard work. If it’s harder even than being an artist…I’m not sure it’d be something I’d want to get into. Which leads to the question, Why be a feminist? No offense, just curious.

Now about your paintings…the warm colors are a bit strange. I understand the need to create non-stereotyped work, so that’s OK. Personally I’m striving more and more to portray - as accurately as possible - the colors of my subject. So in that respect I’m a deep admirer of Richard Schmid, John Taft, Daniel Keys, etc. I should add however, your paintings are excellent in portraying character.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 06 . 24 --

Martyn - Women aren’t looking for the right to vote anymore, it’s true.  The inequalities we’re fighting against tend to be a lot more subtle these days, and that’s part of why so many women are turning away from calling themselves feminists, even though they still believe that women should have equal rights to men.  That said, there still exist a lot of biases against women—biases that I don’t even want to name because I am, as yet, uncertain of the best way to overcome them. 

There are, however, women who do name some of them!  This article talks about a lot of what faces women in the arts and this one might be of special interest to you since it’s by a regular Copyblogger contributor. 

And about painting.  Why are you striving “more to portray”?  What does that mean to you?

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-- Martyn Chamberlin -- 2010 . 06 . 24 --


This is really an interesting discussion. Since most of my art friends are male, I’ve not encountered this in full bloom. Those two articles were very insightful.

It sounds to me like the feminist’s goal is to be exactly like men. Seriously, is that really what you want? I recently read Tom Peters say this:

Women and men process differently, socialize differently.

They’re biologically different. One’s not inferior to the other, but they’re different. Living a non-male lifestyle isn’t admitting you’re inferior. It’s just accepting who you are - and who you were created to be. Trying to be like men is trying to change what you were meant to be - and yes: this IS going to be difficult. In fact, it’s going to be impossible. I’m not saying that men have a right to treat females worse than males. That CopyBlogger article was stunningly insightful. I think it shows that men would rather do business with other men than with women. I think you’d find women to be the same way because people associate better with the same sex. Am I correct?

My question to modern feminists is this:  What are you trying to change? Invariably, I think you’ll find the answer to be, you’re trying to change men’s perception of women. Perhaps that’s possible, I don’t know. I wish you luck. smile

You’ll probably get stewed after reading this. I didn’t mean for it, but if it happens, forgive me. I don’t believe in female suppression, trust me. And I’ll answer your question about art in an email.

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-- Gwenn -- 2010 . 06 . 24 --

A feminist’s goal is not to be exactly like men.  It is be treated equally to men.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with people wanting to do business with people who are like them—men with men, women with women.  It’s actually pretty human, I think, to want to deal with people who are like oneself. 

The issue is that women do not hold as many positions of power in business as men, and this keeps the women who do want to do business from having as many opportunities as men.  Women who are trying to do business often don’t have the option of working with other women. 

Why are there not as many women in positions of power as men?  While most men are slogging away at their jobs or building their careers during the prime years of 30-45, a lot of women have put jobs and careers on the backburner in order to raise children. 

Do women deserve a leg up when they re-enter the workforce and/or their careers after their family-focused time?  Should men look to do business with women specifically because of this disparity?  My answer is YES.  What’s yours?

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-- Madeline Bishop -- 2010 . 06 . 25 --

Thanks for your email to me Gwenn.  Yes, I agree with you, that there are subtle inequalities between the sexes, in our country.  I also have been thinking a lot about the role of religion and faith traditions, which seem to spell out the role of the woman.  Then, when a woman wants to determine for herself if she wants to choose a different, less subservient role, in the eyes of many, she is not just different, she is wrong.  A strong, marching to the beat of a different drummer, must be strong enough to withstand the false “moral” guilt she feels. 

I want to be a feminist, now, at 66, because I think a woman should be able to make choices that feel right to her,  not choices that please others who don’t want to deal with her differentness.  People have the right to self-determination.  I don’t want any one questioning the way I want to live my life.  I don’t want to change men’s perception of women.  I want their opinion to be irrelevant.


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-- Maria Anderson -- 2010 . 06 . 25 --

According to the Women’s Almanac that is updated yearly, on average women still make only $.71 for every $1 earned by a man. Of course, this varies for occupation, race, age, etc…
Martyn, you said it correctly, “One’s not inferior to the other, but they’re different.”
~ sounds like your a closet feminist.*smile*

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-- Martyn Chamberlin -- 2010 . 06 . 25 --

“Should men look to do business with women specifically because of this disparity? My answer is YES.”

Gwenn, how many of your male friends would agree with you on this?

Maria, I’m sounding like a feminist just because I’m saying women aren’t inferior? What’s this world coming to!

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-- Maria Anderson -- 2010 . 06 . 25 --

Martyn, in my opinion that is what feminism means to me that women aren’t inferior. I assumed that you felt feminism was women trying to be like men; at least that’s what you wrote up above.
Gwenn started thinking about female equality when she was just five years old! I doubt anyone actually called her a feminist and I apoigize if you felt I was labeling you. Her question was and I assume still is because it has yet to happen,“why has there never been a female U.S. president?”
After reading evereyone’s quotes on what feminism means to them, not one female said they wanted to be like a man. I saw the female candidate, Hillary Clinton in person during the last election cycle for prez and she looked nothing like a man. She had full makeup on, hair styled and highlights, jewelry, heels, etc. At any rate, do you think she was trying to be like a man by running for the highest ranking seat in the White House? Maria

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-- Martyn Chamberlin -- 2010 . 06 . 25 --

No I meant being like men in the sense of doing things that for thousands of years only men have done, like running for political office and secular jobs. So in that sense yeah, Hillary’s trying to be like a man. Perhaps unintentionally, but if she tries to do something that traditionally only men have tried to do, she’s trying to be like them.

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-- David -- 2010 . 06 . 25 --


The goal of feminism is not to be like men. I am a man and I am a feminist.

Feminism: the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.

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-- Maria Anderson -- 2010 . 06 . 26 --

~ sexual stereotypes which perpetuate the myth of inferiority ignited the feminist movement for those that wanted change.

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-- joshua -- 2010 . 06 . 28 --

The comment section on this entry is huge, which furthers my belief that the art worlds loves issues.
Color was briefly mentioned in one comment, but it is politics and issues that really get viewers interested. “Viewers” is the wrong word, since the issue and Idea rule.
There’s nothing wrong with issues in art but it is way out of control. Paint someones character or self and “ho-mum”. Paint Rosy’s and Liberals will flock and comment.
Every day I Paint. I work with paint and love texture and color.  Even IF I was incredible at this, It would leave little to write about.
Look at the PDX artist with the couch.
Now look at Lucinda Parker, for example.
She has almost nothing to say, but her paintings, through color and strong gesture, almost physically knock me over.
Thanks for being a VISUAL artist, Lucinda.
Think about Kehinde Wiley, Visual Garbage.
He sure knows how to get money and fame out of being born black.
I’m married to a mexican women. Maybe, If I get poor enough I’ll try to milk all I’ve learned about her issues with immigration and racism.
Until then I’m going to focus on painting (in the most aesthetically rich way I can) HER.

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