Face Making

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

Understanding fear / Comprendre la peur

2014 . 06 . 05 - Comments / Commentaires (13)

Whenever a fear starts whispering in my ear, I like to look that fear in the eye and be sure it’s a useful one before I listen to it.

Chaque fois que la peur commence chuchoter à mon oreille, je tiens à regarder cette peur dans les yeux pour m’assurer que c’est une peur utile avant que je l’écoute.

To learn more about how copyright makes us all afraid, check out this video about the evolution of copyright.

Pour en savoir plus sur la façon dont le droit d’auteur nous fait tous peur, regardez cette vidéo sur l’évolution du droit d’auteur.

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

self-portraits by Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis / autoportraits par Gwenn Seemel et Adrienne Lewis
(To learn about the making of my self-portrait, go here. / Pour en savoir plus sur la réalisation de mon autoportrait, allez ici.)

And these images are how you can be sure that I know what I’m talking about in the video. A few months ago I discovered that Adrienne Lewis, someone who was a few years behind me in college, was copying my style. When I wrote positively about her imitation here, she denied that she had been looking at my art. And even though her copying is not a violation of copyright law, it’s adjacent to it, and her lie caused me to experience all three kinds of fears that I describe in my vlog today. There are few things so demoralizing and impossible as interacting with a person who lies.

Et ces images sont la preuve que je sais de quoi je parle dans la vidéo. Il y a quelques mois, j’ai découvert que Adrienne Lewis, quelqu’un avec qui j’étais à la fac, copiait mon style. Quand j’ai célébré son imitation ici sur mon blog, elle a nié qu’elle avait regardé mon art. Et même si son imitation n’est pas une violation du droit d’auteur, c’est la porte à côté, et son mensonge a provoqué en moi les trois sortes de peurs que je décris dans mon vidéoblog aujourd’hui. Il y a peu de choses si démoralisantes et impossibles qu’une échange avec une personne qui ment.

Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis

portraits by Gwenn Seemel and Adrienne Lewis / portraits par Gwenn Seemel et Adrienne Lewis
(To learn about the making of my portrait, go here. / Pour en savoir plus sur la réalisation de mon portrait, allez ici.)

While I’d love for Lewis to come clean or to show me how her style evolved if it wasn’t by copying me, all I can do is trace the source of my fears and focus on getting over them. I can accept the huge compliment that it is to be imitated, and I can concentrate on building better relationships with an ever larger audience. Most of all, I can work on my self-confidence, something that is always a struggle for me.

Même si j’aimerais que Lewis soit honnête ou qu’elle me montre comment son style a évolué si ce n’était pas en copiant mon style, tout ce que je peux faire est de remonter à la source de mes peurs pour m’en débarrasser d’eux. Je peux accepter l’énorme compliment qu’il est de se faire imiter, et je peux me concentrer sur l’amélioration des rapports avec mon public. Surtout, je peux travailler sur ma confiance en moi, quelque chose qui est toujours une difficulté pour moi.

- -—UPDATE / MISE À JOUR 2014 . 11 . 17—- -

I’ve come to a kind of peace with Lewis’ copying, and I explain how here.

Je me suis habituée à l’imitation de Lewis, et j’expique comment ici.

- Anger and intellectual property / La colère et la propriété intellectuelle
- Copyright is for scaredy-cats. / Le droit d’auteur, c’est pour les peureux.
- Artists who believe in copyright are like Tea Partyists.

- Cheaters fear cheaters. / Les tricheurs craignent les tricheurs.
- The lie of the artist’s livelihood / Le mythe de comment un artiste vit de son art
- Comment je protège mes œuvres d’art contre la copie sur l’Internet

CATEGORIES: - English - Français - Business of art - Featuring artists - Reviews - Uncopyright - Video -

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(13) Comments / Commentaires: Understanding fear / Comprendre la peur

-- Paula -- 2014 . 06 . 05 --

This is such a tough call in art. We take risks in putting work out in the wild but you can’t truly create in isolation. Art demands to be seen, experienced and opined about. Even copied. But the only way for a creator to stay sane and on track is to not focus on what other people are doing. Be aware to a degree but continue to refine your work and your style in a way that only you can. Someone said in your other post about this, that art styles are like fingerprints. She can’t be you because you’re already you.

I went through an existential crisis with my art late last year because I started looking around at other artists. There are so many so much better than me! And everything has been painted already! What’s the point? But in the end the point is I need to create and what other people are doing or not doing is not important; being true to my artistic soul is. Be you! Paint your soul! Your work is inspiring and deep and thoughtful. The rest will work itself out in time.

I would also be careful about calling someone a liar online. It’s probably not a good angle to take. grin

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 05 --

@Paula: I appreciate your concern, but it’s important to note that I didn’t call Adrienne Lewis a liar. I said that she is lying in this instance. That is a crucial distinction. What’s more, I didn’t call her denial out for what it is lightly. I only did so because I felt it was important to not pretend that I am unaffected by the fears I was discussing in this video just because I have the courage to put my work in the public domain.

And anyway, sometimes you have to just call things what they are! I prefer to be polite and generous with those around me, but it’s not always the best path. I don’t need to rant and rave against Lewis or to attack her personally—that kind of behavior is never necessary—but I can name her action and talk about how it makes me feel, and I will do so publicly if I think it could be helpful for others.

Lastly, in April I invited Lewis to share about how she developed her style. I was hoping to learn from the experience and to correct the record on my blog. She has not chosen to share about her evolution. Tell me: if someone said that you were imitating them with your art and it wasn’t true, would you put off correcting them? Especially if they were asking you to help them correct the record?

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-- Paula -- 2014 . 06 . 05 --

@gwenn Thanks for clarifying. I suppose I read what I thought and not what you wrote and said.

In terms of imitating and being called out, I personally would ignore the person making the accusation. Things can get so bitter online so very fast. But this is just me - an avid avoider of confrontation.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 05 --

@Paula: That’s interesting feedback. Thank you for the perspective!

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-- Kristina -- 2014 . 06 . 05 --

Ahh!!!  This is so tough.  I can see why you are concerned, which really speaks all the more highly of you that you stand by your longstanding views on copyright. 

I think there are a few too many coincidences here to suggest that you both independently arrived at the same style—which happens to be very unique—at the same university within a relatively short period of time. 

More than anything, it’s disappointing!  It is such a treat to be complimented so highly and have your technique inspire another artist (as it has already inspired countless students).  The styles are—obviously—different.  Yet the techniques are—obviously—related.

I’m sorry to say that I doubt very much that you will get a satisfying resolution to this matter.  I wish you all the best in working through the understandable frustration/disappointment.  As always, just keep doing what you do.  It’s obviously working for you and the community you have worked so hard to cultivate since you became a professional artist.  We aren’t going anywhere, and if your recent TedX talk is any indication, the number of people who admire your work continues to grow beyond what I can even imagine.

Onwards and upward!

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

@Kristina: I appreciate you and your words so much. You hit the spot for me with precisely the pep talk I needed! Somewhere in me, I know you’re right and that I will come through all the emotions that this has caused, but I’m wanting the process to go faster than it is, so it’s hard. But the truth is that patience and kindness from old friends are the only things that will get me through it. Thank you for providing the latter and helping me find the former. smile

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-- Libby Fife -- 2014 . 06 . 07 --


Another good angle on the problem. I am curious to know though (and I apologize if you already mentioned this somewhere) but did you address (in your own mind) any of the fears that you mentioned in this vlog? I am asking because when I am in the middle of something like this, I find it hard to be rational for a bit. I was just wondering if you found any ideas that you can (and would like to) share.

As always, a good post.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 07 --

@Libby: No, I didn’t get into the details of my process anywhere, and now that you ask about it I realize why. It feels vulnerable—even more vulnerable than acknowledging that I have these fears. Still, I get why you’re asking and I’m game to make a go at answering, at least in part.

Mainly, my response has been to take action, lots of it. This helps me feel more in control of myself and it keeps me too busy to wallow.

Along those lines, I decided to offer The owl and The pussycat paintings (shown here) as pay-what-you-will. I had started them after I got some bad health news at the very end of last winter, but it wasn’t until the Lewis-inspired fear set in a few weeks later that I came up with making them part of a tell-your-story name-your-price contest. I did so in order to connect with my audience better or differently. Basically, I wanted more feedback and support, so I asked for it.

The other thing I’ve been doing is experimenting with featuring more of my full portfolio on social media, instead of just my more recent art and blog posts. This is something I’d been thinking about doing for a while, but had just never gotten around to doing, because it’s scary to share older work prominently like that. I was always making excuses to myself about when I’d start. smile After Lewis rejected my friendly advances, I knew it was time. I had to face my discomfort and show the older work. Acting bravely even when I don’t feel brave helps me build confidence.

I’ve done other things too, with varying degrees of success healing-wise, and none of it is working as fast as I’d like. At this point, I’m actually going to try stopping all the action. I’m taking a step back from social media for a week or so. I’ll be around, but I won’t be trying to spark conversation as I have been recently. I want to see where my mind goes right now when I stop talking so much. smile

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-- Libby Fife -- 2014 . 06 . 07 --


Well, thank you for such a great answer! You certainly didn’t have to do that-I would have accepted a no-thank-you answer completely. And for what it is worth, those all seem like very positive and objective style steps from my end. From your end, I would guess they are very personal and open you up even more. But, it’s a publish-and-be-damned approach which sort of ends the argument-which I like!

Stopping the rumination, for me anyway, would be nothing short of a miracle! I trust though that you will get to where you need to be:)

Take care of yourself,

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-- chardeway -- 2014 . 06 . 09 --

Hey Lady!  Thank you thank you thank you. I need to be fearless.  Thank you thank you.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 06 . 09 --

@Chardeway: You’re welcome! smile

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-- david wilson -- 2017 . 01 . 25 --

Hi Gwenn. To say that we feel protective ‘because we feel love’ is not logical. It suggests an inherent fault with love or loving, as if loving inherently entails a defensive mode. The statement presumes that something beloved is threatened and is vulnerable to a presumed attack. The vulnerability of something has nothing to do with love. Is love indiscrete for loving vulnerable things? I don’t think so. Protective feelings do not ‘turn into fear’, they already presume antagonism and threat and since you are suggesting that somehow protectiveness is an aspect of love, you are effectually saying that love is imbued with fear whilst it is permitted to adopt a beloved. What “fears” drive me to protect my art which I love? Wouldn’t it be a “fear” of deprivation? The word fear is easily aimed at others or used to explain behaviors. Am I ‘afraid’ of war? Or do I just prefer to be alive and not bleed all over the place before passing on? Putting a copyright ‘c’ on your work is not less than ‘productive’ nor does it represent fearfulness. It simply reminds not-so-bright people that this was made by me, and not you. It is a no trespassing sign. It is for the potential benefit of others. Has nothing to do with fear. And not using a copyright ‘c’ is not a badge of courage. It just means that you do not choose to re-state the obvious, that this picture was made by its signatory.

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-- Gwenn -- 2017 . 01 . 26 --

@David: I don’t agree with your logic. I don’t think that protective feelings are intrinsically bad or that they imply vulnerability. Consider this: loving a person is ultimately about wanting the best for that person, wanting them to thrive, whatever that means to them (and not to you). Loving stuff—a home, your art—is a bit different because these inanimate objects can’t say what’s best for them, but protection (upkeep, if you will) is a way to allow these objects to continue as they are, which, while not “thriving,” could be a close approximation for a thing.

Furthermore, when you start reframing fears as something else, things get a little loopy. You may not fear war itself, as you say, but you clearly fear death and specifically violent death. It’s implied in what you term “preferences” for being alive and not bleeding a lot before death.

As for your commentary about copyright, I disagree again. It’s a lot more than you “remind[ing] not-so-bright people that this was made by [you].” Copyright comes with a lot of very specific rules for usage. Boiling all that down to a “no trespassing” sign is not acknowledging the complexity and stickiness of copyright law.

All this leaves me with one question: if you are an artist and you make money with your art, how does copyright help you to do so? I’d love specific examples!

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