Blog / 2019 / I Have Beheld the Promised Land for Artists, and It Is Not the United States of America.

July 25, 2019

Recently I was talking with a friend in Europe about a project they are working on, which is funded through an organization that receives government grants. Though there are some requirements for getting money, producing a finished artwork on a specific timeline is not as important as producing something that the artist is excited about. Basically, as long as my friend keeps their contact apprised of their activities and their expenses, they are encouraged to explore and make art in a fairly open-ended way.

Yes, my American friends, right now on Planet Earth, creativity is being heartily encouraged and comprehensively funded.

My entire career has been based in the US, so it’s not easy for me to imagine making art with that kind of support. But talking with my friend made me realize how important it is to do just that.

Today, I present you with a few of the things that I would do if art were valued comme il faut in the US:

  • My series Empathetic Magic would be growing a lot more quickly. I have plenty of new stories and faces to share with you, but it feels like I am always chasing after time and materials.
  • My how-to guide for making portraits—a book that also reveals the behind-the-scenes of Empathetic Magic—would be done in a matter of months.
  • I would be painting huge murals everywhere, all the time. We need to reclaim our public spaces from the corporations that sully them with the soul rot of billboards and commercials. Ads add nothing to our communities; murals makes us well.
  • Ever since my partner came into my life in 2005, I have wanted to meet his exes and make portraits of them. I get how this project might seem nutty, self-indulgent, and even excessive, but I am, every day, amazed by David. I am fascinated with everything that has to do with him.
  • A children’s alphabet book illustrated with my paintings would easily become a reality.
  • I’d be able to explore what I call “end-time ideation.” Humanity’s obsession with its own demise has always fascinated me: Y2K and the threat of nuclear annihilation are modern expressions of a long tradition of each generation believing that it will be the last. My hope is that, through this project, I could discover a way to transform our fears into a more useful kind of energy. I have this idea that when someone is told that they have only a few months to live, they are able to shed petty concerns and focus on what really matters. What if we could do that as a species? What if our certainty that global warming really is the thing that will kill us could actually be the thing that saves us? That’s what I really want to make art about.

I don’t think that being an artist should be easy. I don’t think that everybody should receive funding for every project, and I am not saying that all artists make work that is equally valuable.

What I am saying is that being an artist should be a little easier than it currently is. Because otherwise the only art you get to see is the stuff made by wealthy people, since they don’t need to make money from their art in order to make more of it. And that’s not okay, because wealthy people don’t know everything that we, as a society, need to learn from artists.

Gwenn Seemel drawing faces in charcoal
photo by Gwenn Seemel

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