Blog / 2012 / Smallness and the Artist’s Struggle for Immortality

April 29, 2012

Recently, I was talking with a friend about smallness, the sense that life on Earth is so absurdly ephemeral that the only rational response to its existence is to embrace the silly preciousness and relish it as fully as possible.

Not everyone jams on this way of thinking, so it was nice to compare notes with someone who gets why reading about the sun exploding in a few billion years is so gratifying. But my friend wasn’t convinced that I really understand smallness: he accused me of seeking immortality through my art.

woman with volcano
Gwenn Seemel
After: Puberty
2007
acrylic on bird’s eye piqué
30 x 30 inches
(This painting is from a series of a “before” and “after” portraits.)

And he’s right, but only because the artist’s quest for immortality looks a lot like just being an artist with half a clue about how the world works.

What I mean is that, if I work at getting my paintings known, it’s because that happens to be the only way I know how to make a living with my art, which is in itself an essential ingredient to making more art. But the motivation for self-promotion doesn’t go further than that. If my art doesn’t make it into the history books, I’m still quite pleased.

For one thing, I have the satisfaction of living my life just the way I want to, doing exactly what I want all day, every day. For another, I know for a fact that the art I make and the person I am contributes meaningfully to the lives of people around me. And that’s pretty rad. If no one cares about what I do a hundred years from now, it won’t bother me. People care right now, and that’s plenty enough for me.

I would argue that all the best art is made by people who understand smallness better than just about anyone else. Art-making is about acknowledging how fleeting life is by making something equally as fleeting to celebrate it. It doesn’t get much more absurd—or delightful!—than that.

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