Blog / 2022 / The Happy Medium in Art: Neither Propaganda nor an Empty Image

August 23, 2022

[video transcript]

This early blog post reveals just how long I’ve been preoccupied with the happy medium in art. As I get closer to my twentieth artiversary, I feel both less sure of my ability to find the ideal middle place and more okay with it. Mostly, I’m just glad I’ve kept this question at the center of my practice, since I’m fairly certain that artists who don’t can get lost very easily.

For more about the mental health series, Everything’s Fine, check out this online gallery. The Five Stages of Not Fitting In: Superior, Different, Weird, Wrong, Rejected is for sale for $1200 plus shipping, and there are prints and pretty things with this image here in my print shop.

pink plastic flamingos surrounding a tired real flamingo, surrealist art by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
The Five Stages of Not Fitting In: Superior, Different, Weird, Wrong, Rejected
acrylic on panel
14 x 11 inches

There’s a happy medium in visual art, somewhere between too specific and too open-ended. It’s not always easy to find that middle place, but it’s clear when an artwork veers too close to one of the extremes.

Too specific and the work becomes propaganda: an image that’s bent on putting a particular answer in the viewer’s head, instead of encouraging them to think things through for themselves.

Too open-ended, and the piece loses any purchase in the viewer’s imagination. If pressed, a viewer might be able to respond to this kind of image, but, as with an individual who tries to be likable to as many people as possible, an artwork whose aim is to not take too definite of a stand is boring.

I doubt I always end up making work in that sweet spot, between the extremes. I have a lot to say, both as a person and as an artist, so I know need to keep an eye on my tendency towards specificity, because propaganda is never my goal.

That said, I can generally rely on the images themselves to create a certain amount of ambiguity, like with this piece. What I conceived of as a live flamingo tired of trying to fit in with the plastic ones—so tired she rests her own head on her body—became something else when I showed it to some friends and asked them to tell me what they saw. Now, this flamingo isn’t just tired, she’s also bending over backward or tying herself in knots trying to be what everyone thinks she should to be.

This painting is part of Everything’s Fine, which is a whole series of images about how everything’s not when it comes to mental health. It’s called The Five Stages of Not Fitting In: Superior, Different, Weird, Wrong, Rejected, and, like much of my art, it makes me feel like I fit in when nothing else about me does.

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

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