Face Making

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

Artists are future-makers.

2011 . 02 . 12 - Comments / Commentaires (4)

Reading this article by Barry Johnson made me think on art and elitism again.

I tend to divide artists into two kinds: the elitist artists who make art with other artists in mind and the popular artists who make art for a wider community. I fall in the latter category and I’m clear on what I think of elitist artists. But, while this dichotomy is true to some degree, Johnson’s article reminded me that all artists, regardless of intended audiences, are still grouped together as cultural elites.

Gwenn Seemel's first sculpture

Gwenn Seemel
Paula Bunyan’s Pine Nut Planting Pouch (Austrian-American)
acrylic on an oversized canvas pouch
34 x 23 x 10 inches
(To learn more about the making of this painting-sculpture, visit this article.)

The most obvious and painful proof that artists are considered cultural elites is the withdrawal of public funding from the arts which Johnson refers to and which has been going on for years now. It’s a sure sign that art is marginalized and undervalued when the government can’t find a place for it.

detail image of Renate

detail image of Paula Bunyan’s Pine Nut Planting Pouch

What’s more, by suspending support for the arts the government sends a clear message to artists that what they do is a luxury and far from “mission-critical.” And, even if every creative were imbued with the persistence and tenacity of the mythological Starving Artist, that message can’t help but impact art-makers’ self-esteem.

hand and pouch

detail image of Paula Bunyan’s Pine Nut Planting Pouch

All this makes me think of a conversation I once had with another artist. We were talking about the purpose of art, and I argued that an artist must create change for her-his viewers even if that change may seem at first glance to be small or too personal to be important. I declared that an artist isn’t an artist unless she-he does this.

My colleague responded that I was arrogant to believe that I could create change for anyone else.


That stumped me. The logic of his statement felt right and even virtuous. Then, in a flash of intuition, I knew that the humility he was endorsing didn’t quite make sense. I replied, “no, it’s arrogant to ask a viewer to look at your work if you’re not offering change.”

Gwenn Seemel's first sculpture

the back of Paula Bunyan’s Pine Nut Planting Pouch

It’s easy to say that artists aren’t mission-critical when the artists themselves don’t believe that they contribute to society.

Artists are the future-makers. No matter how or why we’ve been cast as out-of-touch elitists, we’re not. We serve a concrete purpose in our communities and in the world’s community: we re-imagine the world and help to make it work better.

- Validation matters.
- The role of the artist / Le rôle de l’artiste
- Politics for art’s sake

CATEGORIES: - English - Business of art -

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(4) Comments / Commentaires: Artists are future-makers.

-- Heather Freeman -- 2011 . 05 . 18 --

I applaud every word. Thank you for being today’s reminder of who I am and why I do what I do!

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-- Nathan Eckenrode -- 2011 . 10 . 28 --

i whole-heartedly agree that the social responsibility of an Artist is to capture a vision of what is possible and offer it to the viewer as a change which they can decide to appreciate or not. this is especially true when anyone can now make an accurate reproduction of what the world is; those who choose to follow the practice of being an Artist as profession need to focus on imagining new frontiers.

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-- Nathan Eckenrode -- 2011 . 10 . 28 --

following the links in the beginning of your post has been fertile ground for more reading and insight, thank you for the breadcrumbs which will in due course lead me deeper into the rabbit hole!

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-- Molly -- 2013 . 06 . 01 --

Thank you for this article! I needed to hear this right now. I actually searched for the term “artists are future makers” to see if anyone felt the same way - so it was such a relief coming across your blog!

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