Face Making

Artist Gwenn Seemel’s bilingual blog about all the faces she makes while painting faces and other things.

The roles we play

2014 . 06 . 16 - Comments / Commentaires (6)

In the last few years, I’ve come to realize that we all play roles for each other. I don’t mean this in the sense that your doctor, for example, plays the role of “doctor” in your life. I mean it in that way that one friend can play the role of “nurturer” to you, while another plays “challenger.”



painting of a white woman

Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Monkey
2004
acrylic on canvas
19 x 13 inches
(For more about this painting, check out the series for which it was painted.)

Neither of those roles fully encompass who those friends are as whole people, but that doesn’t matter. The roles we assign aren’t about the people in our lives: they’re about our own filters and needs. They’re a way of simplifying the world so that we can understand it and process it on a daily basis.



Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel
Contributing member of society (Self-portrait)
2005
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches
(For more about this painting, check out the series for which it was painted.)

And these roles are fascinating to me. They’re the reason I became a portraitist. After all, my preferred way of painting a portrait is by uncovering what roles a person acknowledges that they play for others so that I can portray the subject in those roles.



American artist Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Over grown up (Self-portrait)
2006
acrylic on canvas
2 x 10 feet
(To see the full piece and learn more about it, go here.)

That said, I also know that these roles can be dangerous to relationships. When someone steps out of the role that you’ve assigned them, they can seem to be acting erratically, but that’s not really a fair evaluation. It’s your expectations for them that have been violated and not necessarily their expectations for themselves.



American artist Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel
Once was my father’s hero (Self-portrait)
2007
acrylic on twill
17 x 13 inches

For this reason and many others, I find it’s useful to try to decipher the roles others have assigned me as well as the roles I’ve assigned to others. It helps me be a more compassionate person, both with myself and with others.



self-portrait

Gwenn Seemel
Rapunzel told me so (Self-portrait)
2007
acrylic on bird’s eye
30 x 24 inches

At the moment, I’m especially interested in the roles I play in my professional life. There’s the “feckless art chick” role. That’s what I play to anyone who doesn’t have much respect for art or artists, and there’s little I can do to convince someone who sees artists this way that I’m anything but that, except by keeping on keeping on.



Oregon artist Gwenn Seemel's self-portrait

Gwenn Seemel
Messy (Self-portrait)
2009
acrylic on panel
7 x 5 inches
(For more about the making of this painting, go here.)

And then there’s the “successful artist who never struggles in any way” role which other artists sometimes cast me in, and, while it’s gratifying to have my hard work recognized, that role is no less confining than any other. Another role that I’m given by some colleagues is that of the sell-out, and I am so done with that notion. Can’t we just all admit that the only person who can tell whether or not they’re selling out is the person themselves?



two self-portrait

Gwenn Seemel
Fragile (Self-portrait before surgery) and Sensual (Self-portrait after surgery)
2012
acrylic on panel
4 x 8 inches (combined dimensions)
(For more about the making of these paintings, go here and here.)

Still, my least favorite professional role by far is the “prostitute” role. Artists, female and male alike, tend to be viewed as sexually open or adventurous. Where women artists are concerned and especially women who make a living with their art, this translates to “prostitute” with alarming regularity.



woman's back

Gwenn Seemel
Hysterical (Self-portrait)
2013
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches
(For more about the making of this painting, go here.)

I know someone views me this way when they tell me I’m a “cute artist girl.” Or when I arrive at their home for an interview and they answer the door in their bathrobe. Or when they lean in for a kiss during a photo-session. These reactions to me as “prostitute artist” are dangerous to me physically in varying degrees, but they are all dangerous to me emotionally.



little blonde girl with a pony at the beach

Gwenn Seemel
Tomboy (Self-portrait)
2013
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches
(For more about the making of this painting, go here.)

Like most people, I sometimes have trouble with the roles that are assigned to me. By design, none of them express fully who I am, and that simplification can be galling. I’ve always wanted to be seen as a whole human. I remember telling boys who liked me in high school that I wanted to be seen as a person by them instead of as a girl. At the time, I viewed the “girl” role as limiting in so many ways—both in a relationship with another person and when connecting with the world more generally.



Gwenn Seemel

Gwenn Seemel
detail image of Dandelion (Self-portrait)
2014
acrylic on a canvas bag
13 x 18 x 4 inches
(To see the full piece and learn more about it, go here.)

Recently though, I’ve come to see it’s not possible for us to see each other as whole people for the most part. I’ve also come to the conclusion that’s maybe even okay a lot of the time. After all, it’s not like I’m always completely aware of myself as a whole person all the time either.


RELATED ARTICLES:
- Portraits of covering, portraits of flaunting
- Whose brand is it? / La marque appartient à qui?
- Just this side of prostitution


CATEGORIES: - Feminism - Philosophy -



Vimeo     YouTube     Twitter     GooglePlus     LinkedIn     Pinterest     Facebook     RedBubble     Bloglovin


(6) Comments / Commentaires: The roles we play

-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 06 . 16 --

This is a great think piece.  I especially like what you said about what happens when you stop playing a role, and you were unaware that you were that role.  I had a best friend, many years, and when I stepped out of being angry when she would pull stupid crap—I began simply telling her that she hurt my feelings instead of telling her she was an ass—she dumped me.  It took me awhile to realize she had me in the role of mom—and her mom was an angry nutcase!  I inadvertently challenged her, and even more so when I would not fight with her about it, but just said that what she had done (and this was a pretty big one) has hurt my feelings.  I had done enough therapy to get to where I would say that and now our friendship would no longer work!  (Sad to lose her, but glad I got to where I am.)

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 06 . 16 --

Also, I loved seeing so many portraits of you all lined up!  We rarely get to see variations of a subject in any artist, and I always find it fascinating.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- cati breil -- 2014 . 06 . 17 --

j’adore le premier autoportrait de cet article Gwenn ! je le trouve magnifique et surtout tellement touchant ! il a un je ne sais quoi de tendre, d’innocent. Il me fait un peu comme si je regardais une photo de ma fille ! j’aime beaucoup tous les autres aussi, et la petite “pépette” au bord de l’eau : je donnerais beaucoup pour une conversation avec elle ! et rêver à son avenir extraordinaire de peintre. En ce qui me concerne je me rends compte que je joue souvent le rôle de tremplin ! sûrement parce-que je me sens souvent malgré moi dans le rôle de la mère,et je vois les autres avec des yeux qui voient juste ce que sont les autres et non ce qu’ils essaient de montrer… pourtant si je suis honnête ce n’est pas le rôle que je joue le mieux pour de vrai dans ma vie avec mes enfants… je ne crois pas être une bonne mère, parce-que j’ai trop peur. Merci pour ce “remue-méninges” Gwenn !

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Kristina -- 2014 . 06 . 17 --

This is such an interesting topic!!  I generally don’t mind the disconnect between perception of others and perception of self.  There are exceptions here and there, but unequivocally I find the “prostitute” role you identified here as one that is ALWAYS disturbing (to me) and one that I struggle to shake.  Though these perceptions crop up for most (probably all) women in various spaces, I find that it is the most shocking and obscene in the professional sphere.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 19 --

I’m happy this post struck a chord. I worried I was doing the over-share again.

Also, Kristina, thank you for opening my eyes: I’m not sure why I assumed the “prostitute” role was more an artist problem than an any-other-kind-of-profession problem.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

-- Kate Powell -- 2014 . 06 . 19 --

The prostitute role is not just about artists—I think it is about men and women.  I have had some very uncomfortable times as a young architect.  In the last one of my career I turned a table over on a business man in a meeting as I quit.  Trust me, it was highly called for; sometimes these things can be handled up front, but mostly it just happens in any business where personal topics/issues are exchanged.

--- -- - --- - ---- - ---- - --- - -- ---

Add a comment / Ajouter un commentaire

Name / Votre nom:

Email / Votre e-mail:

(Visible only to Gwenn / Visible uniquement pour Gwenn)

URL / Votre URL:

(Optional / Facultatif)

Comment / Commentaire:

(You can use / Vous pouvez utiliser: < a >, < b >, < i >)

 Remember me for next time. / Retenez mes coordonnées.

 Email me new comments. / Abonnez-moi au fil de discussion.

Please enter the characters you see below / Veuillez rédiger le mot que vous voyez ci-dessous: