Face Making

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

Why are you an artist?

2012 . 07 . 25 - Comments / Commentaires (18)

- -—[version française]—- -

My “why” has changed in the last 15 years. When I was in high school, I really related to Ani DiFranco’s concept of art. In her “Out of Habit,” she sings:

“Art is why I get up in the morning, but my definition ends there.”

Something about the defensive simplicity of that statement spoke to me. And something about the explanation for being an artist folding into the compulsion I felt for making art made it easier to overlook the more difficult questions, things like “how can I make art that matters to the people around me?” and “what’s the point of art anyway?”



painting of a Bynoe's gecko

Gwenn Seemel
Self-replicating (Bynoe’s gecko)
2012
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches
(For more information about this painting.)

It wasn’t until later that I learned to scrub those hard-to-reach areas of the artist’s psyche, and, when I did, it was a college course in French philosophy—a course which I hated almost as much as the Gen Ed requirement Philosophy 101—that gave me my answer. Somewhere in his Essays, Michel de Montaigne says:

“Life is but movement.”

The wistful nihilism and sense of randomness wrapped up in that quote resonated with my own ideas about just how small we are in the universe, but it lacked something too. I remember correcting Montaigne in my text, inserting a key word with a carrot:

“Life is but beautiful movement.”



painting of a Bynoe's gecko

detail of Self-replicating (Bynoe’s gecko)

I can’t help but thinking that, in art as in life, if you’re not enjoying yourself—not delighting in really experiencing touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight—you’re getting it wrong. Because if you don’t appreciate beauty, you’re probably bored, boring, and a big jerk.

I’m an artist because being an artist is the practice of searching for beauty where others might overlook it and showing that beauty to the world. I’m an artist because I refuse to be bored, boring, and a big jerk; I’m an artist because I don’t think anyone should have to be bored, boring, and a big jerk.

Why are you an artist?


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- The moral of the story / La morale de l’histoire
- Why I make art / Pourquoi je crée l’art
- The definition of art


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(18) Comments / Commentaires: Why are you an artist?

-- DJ -- 2012 . 07 . 25 --

Your blog was linked by creativity coach Dan Goodwin, and I’m indebted to him…
Your Gecko is the most beautiful artwork I’ve seen all day. The word “magnificent” comes to mind.
Thanks for being here.

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 07 . 25 --

Thank you for visiting my virtual home and for saying such nice things while you were here! smile

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-- James -- 2012 . 07 . 26 --

I’ve also found that my answer to this question has changed over time. Right now it’s “I’m an artist because I need to thrive, and the act of making art is where I thrive.” But I like your answer, too - a piece of art inherently makes the request “pay attention to this!” and while I’m sure there are many reasons for attention other than overlooked beauty, I do happen to think that the overlooking of beauty is in abundance right now, at least in this country, if not in the majority of first-world countries. And I definitely value a society that appreciates (or at least pays attention to) beauty more than I value one that overlooks it.

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 07 . 26 --

I think art about not-beautiful things is important too, but when I make that art I still try to make it beautiful…if that makes any sense!  I guess what I’m saying is that hard things, sad things, bad things, things that we need to pay attention to and possibly change can be the subject of beautiful art.  What’s more, the cracked beauty that’s in those things can be emphasized or the beauty in their undoing at the very least.

My upcoming series, for example, is in large part about the way that people living so-called “alternative” lifestyles—everything from homosexuals to infertile couples—are discriminated against in our society.  But instead of railing against the injustice and making angry art, I’m working at making beautiful things that will help those “alternative” lifestyles be perceived as natural, normal, and good.  Beauty can be such a useful tool for change.

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-- Kristina -- 2012 . 07 . 28 --

This painting really is quite breathtaking.  Bravo smile

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 07 . 29 --

Thanks Kristina!

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-- Andi -- 2012 . 12 . 28 --

I could stare at the detailed markings you make for hours, just trying to soak some of that precision up.

I am an artist because I am most engaged and my mind, body and spirit feel most aligned when I am making something, or following the arc of an idea from its birth to its fruition.

That sounds so…artist statement-y.

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-- Gwenn -- 2012 . 12 . 29 --

So true.  There is such a focus that comes with art-making, and it’s at once active and restful.  Nothing else like it.

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-- Mark Badoy -- 2013 . 02 . 01 --

When I decided to pursue art academically, I mainly wanted to draw pretty pictures.  But everyone around me noticed that all of my artwork had really strange narratives going on.  A lot of dark subject matter, dark humor, and many more strange things subconsciously surfacing.

I discussed my artwork with one of my dearest professors and she told me that art is about communication.  We all have messages that we want to tell the world but we’re artists.  The best way we can communicate those messages and ideas is to channel it through drawing, painting, graffiti, music, or whatever other creative outlet.

In galleries everywhere, you’ll find art that was created in response to periods of time, societies, wars, personal struggles, and even other art.  You (Gwenn) mentioned in the comments that you wanted to create a series about “alternative lifestyles”, so you can portray them as natural, normal, good, and beautiful things.  One of my favorite illustrators, Brom, mentioned that he creates art because he wants to express things to other people.  However, he finds verbal communication difficult, so painting is his way to connect with others.

As for me, I still want to draw pretty pictures.  But I also make art because I like to tell stories.

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-- Gwenn -- 2013 . 02 . 08 --

Amen!  We all have to do our thing.

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-- BZTAT -- 2014 . 01 . 12 --

It is indeed an exercise to scrub those outer regions of the artist psyche. I often wonder if people in other careers ask themselves why they do what they do. Most would probably say, “Because it is my job.” Somehow, it is never that easy for the artist. Others have their jobs defined for them. Our job, however, is to define and articulate experience in unique ways. Layer onto that a need to financially succeed and those outer regions need frequent scrubbing.

Whatever life is; Whatever art is; I believe the pursuit of beauty, and movement through it, is one of the greatest parts of both. I am glad that I have found your beautiful work and spirit, Gwenn, as I moved through.

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-- Robyn McIntyre -- 2014 . 01 . 12 --

Love the colour, liveliness of you artwork. Cavil: I think you meant ‘carat’ rather than ‘carrot’, though I did get a smile out of the picture.

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-- kate powell -- 2014 . 01 . 12 --

I am a creative.  I don’t know how to be another way.  Art draws me because of my love of color; writing draws me because of my love of words.  When I am in the zone in either, time and thinking are suspended and perhaps it is the only time when I just am.  I remember a story by Natalie Goldberg of failing to meditate well.  Katagiri Roshi told her to write, and it would take her everywhere.  I am a long-time meditator and the only time i am in the zone is when I am painting up a storm or writing free-fall into where-ever. 

I love this thread.  Thank you Gwenn.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 01 . 13 --

@BZTAT: I just filmed a vlog about the doubt that always accompanies the statement “I’m an artist”—a doubt that doesn’t exist for other professions.  Great minds! smile  And thank you for your kind words!

@Robyn: Haha!  Too funny!  So I looked it up and, to cavil on your cavil (which, by the way, is a great word I’d never heard, so thank you!) it’s “caret.” smile

@Kate: Yes. I hear you re: meditation through creative space.  It’s that I crave as much as what happens once the art is in the world.

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-- Naly -- 2014 . 01 . 14 --

Hi Gwenn!

I really admire your depth when it comes to expressing life through your pieces. Also, your reason why you are an artist is so beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

I am an artist because I am shy to speak my thoughts; almost scared even. but, I feel confident, strong, and excited to express myself through art. It’s my way to explore who I am and my chance to ponder about life.
I’m slowly changing now. Now, I’m trying to be more expressive in words too.

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-- Gwenn -- 2014 . 01 . 14 --

@Naly: Words can be scary!  That said, I’ve found that, the more I use them, the more I learn to delight in them and in their unique qualities as communicators.  It’s like any medium, I guess: with use the tool becomes more useful.  Bon courage in your wordy journey! smile

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-- Gala Gauthier -- 2016 . 09 . 23 --

I am an artist because I can’t spell very good and I have a lot to say;
so I draw in pictures so all can understand you don’t need a language to understand that its just an isness..

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-- Gwenn -- 2016 . 09 . 24 --

@Gala: Having a lot to say. That may be the quintessential artist-ness. smile

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