Face Making

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

Doing “the Gwenn Seemel”

2014 . 10 . 23 - Comments / Commentaires (5)

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Six and a half years ago now, I googled myself. This wasn’t my first time going down that dark but necessary path, but it was the first time I was rewarded with something really surprising, a teenager’s blog post describing her experience of “Gwenn-Seemel-ing” her painting. I’d never seen my style imitated by another artist before, so this encounter provoked a jumble of emotions. Despite the overwhelm, there was one clear theme: I was downright astonished.

To be clear, the surprise I felt on reading the post had nothing to do with someone using my name in reference to my style. For years, people had been telling me I should create a photoshop filter called “the Gwenn Seemel” that would automatically do to a photo what I did over the course of many months with my paint brush—a suggestion that I found both flattering and annoying.

In other words, it wasn’t the way it was said so much as the heart of the content that caught me so off guard. I was shocked that anyone would think my art was worth copying.

Gwenn Seemel and Tiffany

Gwenn Seemel’s Jack 2006 and Tiffany Everett’s Self-portrait 2008
(For more of my work from 2006, go here.)

But someone did, and the now-grown-up-and-with-an-official-website Tiffany Everett was that someone. The piece she was blogging about was this delightful self-portrait. At the time, I wrote about my experience of discovering her blog. And, from that post, it’s clear I was already on my free culture path: I was happy for the imitation and open to learning from it. That said, it wasn’t until a year and some later that I clarified my feelings about copyright publicly.

Gwenn Seemel and Amanda

Gwenn Seemel’s Harper 2007 and Amanda’s work from 2010
(For more of my work from 2007, go here.)

But when I did come out as a free culture advocate, I did so in a big way, and, by late 2010, around the time that another high schooler created this portrait, I had established myself as a vocal opponent of copyright. Amanda was part of a high school class in Illinois that I Skyped with, giving the students pointers on how to make their art look more like mine—an unexpectedly difficult task.

Gwenn Seemel and Ashlin

detail of Gwenn Seemel’s Daughter 2009 and Ashlin’s work from 2010
(To see the full image of Daughter, go here.)

Since then, my name has appeared on high school art curricula and on lists of living artists who are approachable and whose style can be imitated.

Gwenn Seemel and Tom

detail of Gwenn Seemel’s Jackson 2011 and Tom’s work from 2013
(To see the full image of Jackson, go here.)

As a result, I receive fifteen or twenty queries every year from students who have to research an artist’s life and then copy their style. It is unquestionably one of my favorite parts of being an artist who sets her work free, especially when the students send me images of the work they’ve created based on our exchange.

Gwenn Seemel and Kat

Gwenn Seemel’s Steppen 2012 and Kat Larissa Elwell’s Carly 2014
(For more about the making of Steppen, go here.)

Sometimes older artists take inspiration from my art too. When they do so, they enter into conversation with me, much like the high schoolers do as well.

Gwenn Seemel and Cindi

Gwenn Seemel’s David 2005 and Cindi Oldham’s Janice 2014
(For more of my work from 2005, go here.)

And when I say “enter into conversation” sometimes I mean it literally as when these artists talk with me about how I’ve influenced them, but sometimes I mean it metaphorically. Because the fact is that when you copy someone’s work, you are inviting them into your life. Your work says a visual “hello” to the other artist’s work in a language that they understand only too well.

Of course, some artists will answer your visual greeting by slamming a door shaped like a © in your face, making it a short and rather hurtful conversation. But others, like me, won’t ignore someone when they imitate us and we won’t try to stop them either. We’ll take the invitation seriously and work to find a way to engage with those who are inspired by our work.

This won’t always be comfortable for everyone involved, but that’s how it goes sometimes when you bring someone into your life! At the very least, hopefully everyone gets to learn something about themselves and about the world.

Tiffany Everett illustration

Tiffany Everett’s illustration from 2013

As I look at the work of artists I’ve inspired, I can’t help but feel pleased, proud, and very much a part of the world in the best way possible, but I admit to feeling a special connection with Tiffany. Back in 2008, while she was busy transforming her self-portrait by looking at mine, I was hard at work on my own transformation. I was trying to figure out how to channel the radical thoughts I was having about imitation and copyright into something useful, and Tiffany’s appearance in my life sparked a huge and important shift for me. For that, I will always be grateful to her.

- When it’s too much copying / Quand c’est trop d’imitation
- Adrienne Lewis and me: 2 painters, 1 technique / Adrienne Lewis et moi: 2 peintres, 1 technique
- Learning from copying / Apprendre avec l’imitation

CATEGORIES: - English - Featuring artists - Philosophy - Uncopyright -

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(5) Comments / Commentaires: Doing “the Gwenn Seemel”

-- Joyce -- 2014 . 10 . 23 --

It feels so giving of you to “free up” your art. I understand your philosophy behind it.  But I really think it takes a very mature and confident artist to think this way.  I am all for opening me to the universe and receiving the gifts that it returns to me. I have felt that way for a long time.  And fortunately, it has always really worked well for me.  I do think I have to say that part of what I feel about you the person, the artist (that I have never met in person) is partly a result of your European youth. Perhaps I romantizize it,  but I felt a kinship to you the very first time I read you blog and you have continued to delight me, both with your art work and your personal growth through varied experiences. Thank you Miz Gwenn.  You are a joy.

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-- Adrienne Fritze -- 2014 . 10 . 24 --

Love this post…

What an unusual thought for me to ponder - will someone one day be inspired by my work and share that inspiration with me? It would be an interesting, likely thrilling + humbling experience I imagine…

As always, thank you for your share…

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 10 . 24 --

@Joyce: For the most part, I have been fortunate too in the universe’s response to my openness, but I don’t think that the universe deserves all the credit. I do think that at least some of that has to do with our attitude as well! And re: my European youth, it’s hard not to romanticize it. I know I do too! smile Really though, I think that the early exposure to a second language and a second culture is its own blessing, even if a person does nothing “practical” with it. It may make you feel uncomfortably like you have several personalities at times, but it can also provide much-needed perspective—which is a lot like what your kind and encouraging words do for me too. Thank you.

@Adrienne: Thank you! I wish imitation on all artists who are open to it. It is a truly mind-bending experience!

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-- Celia -- 2014 . 10 . 24 --

Fabulous! copying is the highest form of flattery . . .
and you DO have such a distinctive style - visual interpretation - one I haven’t found in any museums or galleries.  love it. so does most everyone else I think smile

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 10 . 27 --

@Celia: You are kind! Thank you!

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