Blog / 2022 / Art That Saves the World

May 2, 2022

[video transcript]

I talk about three specific ways that my art saves the world in this video, and this early post explains how all art creates change. My entire blog is a years-long love letter to my fellow creatives, but in 2020 I made a series of posts detailing how to love your art.

You can order your copy of The Future We Need at Cornell University Press, and you can see the whole series of paintings from the book here.

Lidia, portrait by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on panel
14 x 11 inches

Fresh out of school, just as I was starting my art career, I remember talking with a friend about all the people we knew who were working with nonprofits to fight injustice and, in particular, those who were moving to DC to work on changing policy. I marveled at how these people were going to save the world, and my friend responded that they may be saving the world, but that my art would be what makes the world worth saving.

The comment was meant kindly, but it landed like a splat of bird poop on my head, reeking of revelation. In that moment, I knew I wanted something different for my work. I wanted to save the world too.

And over the last couple of decades, I’ve made work that does just that. Because, whether it means to or not, all of art creates change. It could be something small, like Lidia, the subject of this portrait, seeing herself through someone else’s eyes and feeling affirmed by the experience. Or it could be something bigger, like this portrait being a part of The Future We Need, a book written by a friend who went to DC to save the world by strengthening unions—a book that explains how community organizing nurtures democracy and that features portraits of workers like Lidia who make the extra effort of being a union rep because she loves helping her fellow workers.

A few years after the splat-tastic revelation, still fairly early on in my career, I went to hear an artist speak at a college near where I lived. This artist spent a good chunk of their stage time poking fun at makers like me. Saving the world, they said, was something best left to other fields. Art was about saving yourself.

These comments were meant kindly, I think. They were meant to take the pressure off the student artists in the audience, but the words still landed like pterosaur poop on my head: large and ancient, smelling of generations of creatives who lack imagination.

In that moment, my path was set: I wanted to save the world with my art while also doing the exact opposite of what this speaker was doing. I wanted to build artists up. I wanted to help them see that what they do matters more than they know. I wanted to do a little like Lidia does in her workplace by making sure that my fellow artist-workers know the value of their labor.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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