Blog / 2019 / Looking Closely at Art

November 29, 2019

There’s a joke among art world types that it’s easy to tell the difference between artists and non-artists in a gallery setting. The artists are the ones with their noses glued to the art, examining the details of the work.

As an artist myself, I see the truth in this joke and I love it. I adore the way artists enjoy art! In fact, I wish that non-artists would look more closely at the work too.

That’s one of the reasons why I am embedding first names into the images in my new animal alphabet book, Baby Sees ABCs. I want to encourage kids to search through my brushstrokes to find the names and, in that way, get used to looking carefully at art.

I shared about this motivation in a recent video and my friend Marcia responded in this rather unexpected way:

“I have always been very fascinated about processes in creating art but, for some reason, thought it was against the rules or gauche to examine a work of art too closely. I have no idea where I obtained that thought, but even in museums I’ve felt embarrassed if I looked too closely at something, thinking that to honor the artist I needed to see the piece as a whole. So I cannot thank you enough for giving me ‘permission’ to look closely!”

There’s a maddening variety of myths and rules surrounding art and artists. Every time I turn around there seems to some new misconception to dismantle! But of all the fallacies and false stereotypes that are projected onto my field, the idea that it’s wrong to look closely at art has got to be the weirdest.

I would love to find the source of the disconnect between artists and their communities—the original lie that has led to people thinking that art is a luxury, that artists are always starving and flakey, and that you’re not allowed to get all up in the art. But, for today, I’m grateful to Marcia for sharing her perspective, and I am so pleased that she feels more invited into art!

The first names embedded in I Is for Indri are Ian, Ibrahim, Ida, Idris, Ifanyi, Ignacio, Ilinca, Imogen, Inara, Indigo, Inez, Indira, Indu, Inigo, Inga, Ingrid, Inna, Irena, Iris, Isaac, Isabel, Isaiah, Ishani, Isla, Ivy, and Izola.

The original painting is for sale for $1500 plus shipping. If you want prints or other pretty items with this image, check out my Redbubble shop! The full book will be available in spring 2020.

indri clinging to a tree, wildlife art
Gwenn Seemel
I Is for Indri
2019
acrylic on panel
14 x 14 inches

Here’s what I’ve been reading since my last alphabet book update:

  • Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance

    This book was recommended to me a million times, and, though it was fine, it didn’t live up to the hype. If you’re looking for a truly fascinating memoir, I can think of three off the top of my head: Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha, Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth, and Heavy by Kiese Laymon.

  • What It Is and Picture This by Lynda Barry

    This is the second time I’ve read these books, and I fell in love with them all over again! Barry’s books tend to smoosh up images and text in a delightful manner, and I adore her mark-making. It reminds me of Louise Bourgeois’ drawings, and that connection—like my own personal matching card memory game played with all the art I’ve ever seen—pleases me in a way that’s hard to describe.

  • Syllabus by Lynda Barry

    First, I should say that I am not a fan of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. I don’t think it’s evil, but I also don’t really get the appeal, and that’s kind of how I feel about Syllabus as well. It’s a way more beautiful and inspiring version of The Artist’s Way, but it’s still a little too Artist’s Way-ish for me. Barry’s book What It Is feels just as creative and not as forced.

  • China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

    This is the follow-up to Crazy Rich Asians, and, like the first book, it’s light but engagingly written. If you’re looking for an entertaining story of Asian wealth that is also moving and thoughtful, I would suggest reading The Wangs Versus the World by Jade Chang instead.

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