Face Making

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

The artist’s self-esteem

2010 . 02 . 11 - Comments / Commentaires (6)

When I started out as an artist seven years ago, I often found it difficult to make work or to promote it. I was paralyzed by a severe lack of self-esteem and an unhealthy inclination to over-analyze my every action.

Then, at some point, I discovered a neat little trick that allowed me to believe in my work fully while still doubting the rest of myself. I separated my work from my self. I stopped looking at my paintings as an extension of me and started seeing them more as objects with their own lives to lead. 

The split allowed me to make work confidently without having to worry about the parts of me that I didn’t want to expose. And, as my confidence about my work grew, I let it feed my personal confidence, helping me to became a more self-assured person in other areas of my life. 

All in all, my division between my work and myself isn’t as absolute as it once was, but I’ll never fully give it up because it keeps the more vulnerable parts of me safe. Most importantly, the split means that criticism of my work doesn’t feel like criticism of me. And that, in turn, means that I can listen to commentary a lot more objectively. I can more clearly see a critic’s biases; I can digest opinions as valid and informative without letting them take over my future work. And that means that I can grow as an artist.

Gwenn Seemel's self-portrait from Subjective

Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
36 x 36 inches

Over the years, I’ve had some pretty strange things said about my work in the public forum. For example, I have been told that I should have slept with my subjects—in this review for this show—and one of my subjects was quoted in the paper as saying “I hate the thing” in reference to his portrait. And though I don’t agree with many of the criticisms leveled at my work, the split between self and work stops me from getting defensive and tuning out my critics. Because I don’t take comments about my work personally, I can learn from what is said.

- How to get an honest critique of your art
- Change
- Everybody’s a critic.

CATEGORIES: - English - Business of art -

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(6) Comments / Commentaires: The artist’s self-esteem

-- shannon kringen -- 2010 . 02 . 11 --

very helpful words for my own path. thanks for expressing this here.

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-- efunkamericana -- 2010 . 02 . 12 --

this is another excellent insight from you

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-- kathryn dart -- 2010 . 02 . 17 --

Wow, this is such a great insight! I find this very difficult to do, and it’s great to see that it’s worked for you.

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-- Gail R. -- 2010 . 07 . 22 --

Oh so true! As a parent and someone who does creative works I see it as the same thing.  I made both and yet when I see people ‘sizing them up’ I have to choke back that feeling of ‘we are one and anything you say, feel about the other, you say, feel about me’.  I’ve not managed to make the break yet (from the art or the kids!), but I see that it’s true and necessary.  Something to work toward.

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-- Wild C -- 2010 . 10 . 14 --

I realised a similar thing myself but specifically in relation to exhibiting. I tell myself that making the work and exhibiting the work are two different things and whatever happens at the exhibition - selling, not selling, criticism etc. - can’t change my experience of making the work. Like you, I see the finished works something I pack off into the world to take their chances in life…

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-- Lori Jones -- 2011 . 11 . 22 --

Brilliant…you couldn’t have summed it up any better. Our group is going through it’s growing pains and we’ve just begun to broach the subject of constuctive criticism to help us all grow and become more confident artists! I’ll definitely share your neat little trick with our group! Thank you so much!!

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