Face Making

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

Speaker of the conference

2013 . 03 . 21 - Comments / Commentaires (3)

At the beginning of March, I visited the Big Apple but also DC. In fact, the New York part of trip was extra credit. I was actually flying east to talk at the Freedom to Connect conference in Washington.

white orchid

The event is built on the premise that access to a free Internet is essential to democracy today, and I had been invited to speak about the obstacles that copyright creates for this access, addressing the issues from the viewpoint of a working artist. I won’t lie: I was pretty much terrified of speaking to such a large group, but I’m so glad I did it.

Freedom to Connect, Alexis Ohanian and the Chambers

One of the highlights of a fascinating conference was Alexis Ohanian’s talk which also focused on copyright’s dark side, citing specifically the difficulties that Lester Chambers of the Chambers Brothers has had in getting paid for his work by his label. Bonus: Lester and his son Dylan shared a few songs with us!

Charlotte Hager

It wasn’t all work and no play in DC. I also had the chance to reconnect with Charlotte Hager. Here, she’s introducing me to the Southern delicacy sweet tea, a treat that I’m convinced only someone as sweet Charlotte can handle.

Charlotte Hager and her mural

photo by Ashley

Charlotte is a health educator in a few of Washington’s high schools, but, as the fabulous mural in the background of this photo hints at, she’s also an artist. Chatting about her process, I was particularly struck by the vulnerability she said she feels as she makes her art. It could have something to do with the fact that her mural work makes her process very public, but, for Charlotte, it’s only when a piece is heading into the home stretch that she likes it.

I understand the vulnerability factor. I feel it too as I work on a piece, but, when a painting seems helpless and half-baked, I love it more. When it’s done, I have an affection for it, but it’s doesn’t belong to just me anymore either. In other words, the intimacy I felt with the unfinished piece is gone, and I’m ready for a new relationship!

painting from college

I say that of course, and then I’m confronted with this work. Some part of my brain recognizes it as something I made in 1999 or thereabouts, but I feel nothing for it. No fondness, no link at all.

painting from college

The choices I made in this painting seem so foreign. Why would I ever use that shade of green in that way? I can’t help but wonder if I’ll feel the same way about my current work years from now. Does art always stop feeling so connected to the artist? Is that maybe a good thing?

Holly and me

This trip down artistic memory lane was courtesy of Holly, with whom I went to college. And that’s as it should be. Old friends exist in part to remind us of who we were—which is to say who we still are.


Holly is a mommy several times over now, and it was fun to go to the National Gallery of Art with her and her babies to see how families experience art. Holly played “I spy” with the paintings and made them infinitely more interesting to her older boys, a technique which I think more docents with adult tours might try.

Alice Neel's self-portrait

Later, I wandered the National Portrait Gallery on my own. It was my first visit to this museum and I was surprised (and, then again, not really all that surprised) by how little emphasis is placed on the artists of the portraits in the collection. It’s all about who it’s of not who it’s by. In that sense, the Gallery is a history museum rather than an art museum. What’s more, the prominence given to the sitters feeds the sickness that I see in too many portraitists: the compulsive need to portray people they’ve never even met just because those people are famous.

The one exception to the Portrait Gallery’s problematic programming that I remember seeing is the painting pictured above, Alice Neel’s self-portrait from four years before her death. It’s possible that it’s the only painting in the collection where the subject and the artist are both considered of importance to American history, or it’s possible that it’s the only one I remember because I was so pleased to finally see this extraordinary work in person!

Felipe Archuleta's Baboon

In the end, my favorite part of the Portrait Gallery was that it’s in the same building as the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Specifically, I was pleased to come across the folk art gallery. With the help of works like this one by Felipe Archuleta, I realized that I quite like some sculpture, just not three-dimensional work that takes itself too seriously.

Altogether, my week away from the studio was a lot to take in—professionally, artistically, personally. I’m still not sure I’ve recovered, but I’m certain that what I learned is already making it into my paintings!

- Business and pleasure
- Finished! / Achevé!
- “Welcome to my hanging.”

CATEGORIES: - English - Events - Featuring artists - Philosophy - Photography - Reviews - Uncopyright -

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(3) Comments / Commentaires: Speaker of the conference

-- Allison -- 2013 . 03 . 21 --

Great post, Gwenn! I’m proud of you for getting up and speaking..that’s a big task! I’m sure you handled it well. smile

I know what you mean about feeling disconnected from old work. Recently I was in my mother’s home, and we’re moving her, and I was asked if i wanted any of my old art back. I was like… uh… no, not really. Not that I don’t like it, but it’s not mine anymore. I don’t really feel a part of it. I want someone else to enjoy it, because I don’t think I could appreciate it in the same way. I’ve moved past it. I can see my own progress, and owning a piece I made years ago would some how feel like I was going in reverse. Anyway, just wanted to acknowledge that I sometimes feel similarly.

Take care, G! Let’s hang soon.

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-- Holly -- 2013 . 03 . 21 --

I was SO ready for bed, and then started reading your blog as a nightcap.  Needless to say, you kept me up.  You are addictive, Gwennie!  Your passion for connecting with how you feel and making truth be heard is inspiration.  Thanks for the lovely thoughts on my family.  Love.

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 03 . 22 --

@Alli: It’s interesting what you say about owning old work.  The pieces that I do still have from around from the end of the last century are a comfort to me, but I don’t hang many of them in my home.  It makes me think that the strangeness with this piece was to see it hanging…?  Hard to say!

@Holly: Good thing you have an excellent connection to the Gwennie source! wink  Thank you, friend, for so many things!

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