Face Making

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

Artists who work for universities are very different from artists who don’t.

2018 . 07 . 02 - Comments / Commentaires (4)

Hurt feelings and happy ones. That’s what the statement caused:

Artists who work for universities are very different from artists who don’t.

Posting this short phrase to Facebook provoked strong emotions in my artist community, and that surprised me, but, more than that, I was shocked by where the response took me.

I found myself considering my infertility again.

portrait art

Gwenn Seemel
Smile-talkers (Gabe Flores and Gwenn Seemel)
acrylic on canvas
30 x 44 inches
(For more about Gabe’s art, go here.)

To be fair, my childfree status has been on my mind recently. In the last few months, family members have joined with the US government in turning up the pressure to procreate. Still, the argument that institutional artists aren’t that different from independent ones—or the idea that institutional artists know what it’s like to be independent—looks a lot like the breeder/barren disputes.

For example, some parents say that, because they didn’t have kids until their 30s, they know what it’s like to be childfree as an adult. They believe they have experienced both parenthood and the childfree life. But they haven’t, and they can’t.

If a childfree person can’t know what it’s like to be a parent—and we really can’t—then the opposite is also true. Childfree adults aren’t simply overgrown 20 year olds. We have experiences and responsibilities as childfree adults that parents will never understand.

Ella Jaroszewicz

Gwenn Seemel
Ella Jaroszewicz
acrylic on canvas
19 x 18 inches
(For more about Ella’s art, go here.)

The same is true of artists who work for institutions. I’ll never know all the challenges they face. I recognize that their take on the money/time balance is different from mine—and also that their regular paycheck comes at a price. I sense that a person needs a specific kind of courage and generosity to coach young artists day in and day out. And I can imagine the aggravation of office politics, but I can’t ever comprehend the toll it takes.

By that same token, institutional artists cannot understand the independent life. Like many parents who romanticize the childfree person’s existence, institutional artists project their early independent experiences onto longtime independent artists, even though the adventures of the 20 something indie just don’t add up to anything resembling the reality of the committed independent artist.

Non-institutional artists are barred from many opportunities, large and small, because institutions promote among themselves and generally favor their own. This is a fact, and it sucks. It sucks almost as much as the judgment I receive from many parents and from society as a whole when it’s discovered that I’m childfree.

Kaity Gmitter painted portrait art

Gwenn Seemel
Kaity Gmitter
acrylic on panel
7 x 5 inches(For more about Kaity’s art, go here.)

All that said, in the end, it turns out that institutional artists and independent ones may have more in common than I thought.

When I originally posted on Facebook, I was having an “everybody else has it easier than me” kind of moment. And, while I feel a little sheepish about that now, I admit that I am relieved to see that the institutional artists feel it too. That makes me want to be gentler with them and with myself.


CATEGORIES: - English - Business of art - Endometriosis - Feminism -

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(4) Comments / Commentaires: Artists who work for universities are very different from artists who don’t.

-- Christine -- 2018 . 07 . 02 --

I’ve entered into my 30s childfree (and I’m still not sure if children will be a part of my future or not). Most of my colleagues have children. Then there’s the group of fellow childfree colleagues that live a different lifestyle than me. I witnessed a divide in the late 20s into the 30s of people who chase dreams and people who settle down with regular jobs and party on the weekends. To each, their own. I have a lot of respect for my friends with children. I don’t know how they do it! At the same time, I find it frustrating that I have to explain that my life isn’t carefree. It’s not only commonplace for me to dodge questions about why I’m childfree as if anyone should have to explain why, while also being expected to have so much free time.

I’ve learned to start telling people I don’t have days off, even when I’m not working my regular job because those days off are spent working on a freelance career. I want to be an independent artist full time. I’ve thought about working at studio jobs as an artist (for big companies), but then I would be sacrificing my projects.

Also, I’ve found it interesting that some artists take the institution jobs for security. No job is secure. I’ve had the high paying office job with benefits…and been laid off. Anything can happen to take away that “secure” job. That’s why I chose this path. Security isn’t real, might as well use my hard work for my projects that support causes I care about, instead of making someone else money! 

This subject reminds me of other conflicts/arguments: degreed artist vs. self-taught, traveling person vs. the person who lives in the same place their whole life. I’m a traveler, so I get interesting responses about that choice. “I could never afford that!” Yeah, it’s called sacrifice or necessity. I see different paths as just different sets of challenges, not right or wrong.

Sorry for the long comment! I’m chatty today.

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-- Gwenn -- 2018 . 07 . 03 --

@Christine: I like chatty comments! smile And re: security, YES. It is wild how many people still hold onto the dream of security through a job working for someone else. Ultimately, I think that freelancing is just a different kind of security/insecurity. Like you said: different paths, different challenges.

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-- Edward -- 2018 . 07 . 06 --

What an interesting complex topic! Children—awkward subject for me, through all stages of life.

Born in the Philippines, except for that first year-and-a-half I lived my sixty-four years on both U.S. coasts. Most of my life, I’ve rebelled against the traditional cultural ways of my parents.

For various reasons, by age fifteen I’d already decided never to have children. Two high school mates actually threatened then that if they ever met me in adult life—and I was still childless—they’d beat me up!

During my only visit to the Philippines at age thirty-eight, my relatives thought it mighty queer that by the time they were my age, they’d already had five of their ten children—and here I was without a girlfriend, let alone married with children.

A few years later I did marry, and a step-daughter came bundled in the program. I flubbed it. Not that I was a wicked step-father. Having no role models, clueless of how good parenting was supposed to look and feel, I was happy having the title “step-dad” relegated to glorified babysitter and taxi driver: swim meets, basketball games, piano lessons and shuttling between her two “real” if divorced parents.

Fast forward two relationships, as I consider dating once again. Most (all?) potential partners are grandmothers—mothers of adult children with children. Time has made that a reality I accept. Children living at home (including adult ones) would still be a deal breaker for me, though.

With experience and age, I’ve even arrived at liking some children (and loving all of them – in principle). The greatest influence moderating my thinking and attitudes has been meeting really good men, some of whom are great fathers. One such father – and his children—was the inspiration for my latest painting.

I’ve developed a thick skin and the attitude “What other people think of me is none of my business”. I still wonder at times what people think of men who’ve never had children of their own.

Ed Being Chatty, Too

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-- Gwenn -- 2018 . 07 . 08 --

@Edward: I think the stigma for childless/childfree men is similar to what it is for women in the “you can’t be an adult until you’re a parent” sense. I wonder if there’s a “you’re not truly a woman until you’ve made a baby” thing for men. There probably is a certain degree of that too…

Thanks for sharing about your life!

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