Blog / 2020 / Being a Slow Art Maker in a World Moving at the Speed of Memes

July 30, 2020

Sometimes it feels like I’m in the fifth grade again and I missed the current events homework. I open up social media and it looks like every artist but me has produced an image of the celebrity who just died or some visual commentary on 45’s latest violent act. These current event artworks vary wildly in quality, but the consensus seems to be that real artists make topical art at the speed of memes.

But that’s not how my creativity works. I don’t make a painting a day, and I cannot manufacture intelligent and complex responses to world events on demand.

I make slow art.

There are times when my pacing works out and I happen to launch my art at precisely the right moment, like in 2008 when I first exhibited Apple Pie, my series of portraits of immigrants and other American-Americans. At the time, Obama was making his first run for the Presidency and the burgeoning birther movement was just one expression of the rampant anti-immigrant sentiment at the time, so everyone was congratulating me for making art that was on the pulse.

Except I hadn’t—or not in the way they meant anyway. I’d been working on Apple Pie for over a year by the time it opened, so it wasn’t a response to 2008’s bigotry. I was making art about the immigrant experience, because, if I have any say in it, the immigrant experience will always be a current event in the US.

Still, the series really popped in the summer before Obama’s election. A context I couldn’t plan for had made my art feel more relevant.

dumbo octopus painting process

The same is true for Baby Sees ABCs. When I started work on the book last summer, the project was my way of turning my studio into a sanctuary and then sharing that sanctuary with those who love my art. I knew 2020 would be a particularly divisive presidential election year, and I wanted to be an antidote to that poison.

I had no idea that COVID-19 would descend upon us and change our culture in a multitude of still to-be-determined ways. I couldn’t know how vital it would be to help kids learn to deal with physical distancing by encouraging two pursuits that make being alone more okay—reading and visual art—but Baby Sees ABCs arrived just in time to do that.

I make slow art.

I’ll never be able to meme-ify my art practice, and that’s okay. Plenty of important things stay important for a long time, so artists shouldn’t feel pressured to respond to the 24 hour news cycle. As long as you’re making art on the regular, the timing will eventually be perfect!

dumbo octopus art by Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
D Is for Dumbo Octopus
acrylic on panel
14 x 14 inches

The first names embedded in this image are Dagmar, Daisy, Damali, Daniel, Darin, Darius, Darla, David, Dawn, Deanna, Deb, Delaney, Deloris, Dénes, Deserée, Destiny, Devin, Dewayne, Diane, Dilan, Dino, Dmitriy, Dolly, Donald, Donna, and Doug.

dumbo octopus painting
detail of D Is for Dumbo Octopus

The original dumbo octopus painting is for sale for $1500 plus shipping—see all currently available artworks. If you want prints or other pretty items with this image, check out my Redbubble shop.

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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