Blog / 2021 / Toxic Positivity Versus Thoughtful Positivity

September 22, 2021

“You give the impression that you live in joyful serenity. Your portraits are full of light and colors. Are there things that hurt you? That make you sad?”

This is a direct quote from a 2017 Framablog interview, and, when I read the comment/question for the first time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

In one sense, it was proof that I’d been successful: I’d managed to bury the gaping wound of my heart under enough layers of pretty to make my emotions and my take on the world—AKA my art—eminently palatable.

In another sense, this comment/question highlighted precisely what needed to change.

By chance, the interview came out the very same day that white supremacists marched on Charlottesville, Virginia. Seventy-two hours later, Trump made his infamous “very fine people on both sides” statement, and I immediately got to work on some sad art.

Trump as a Tiki torch, a reference to his support of the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017
Gwenn Seemel
The Light of the Right (Donald Trump as a Tiki Torch)
2017
acrylic on canvas
24 x 18 inches
(For more about the making of this angry art, go here.)

While version of this image had been bubbling up in me ever since the US elected a racist sexual predator to the Presidency ten months prior, I don’t know if this concept would have made it all the way to paint if Framablog hadn’t held up a mirror to me just days before.

I didn’t want anyone mistaking me for a toxically positive person: the kind of individual who hides painful emotions, ignores problems, and, worst of all, dismisses other people’s feelings.

Positivity plays a big role in my life, for sure, but that’s mostly because it doesn’t come naturally to me. Like many toxically positive people, my default emotional setting is fairly negative. I have to work at being positive, but I also put in the extra effort required if you want to avoid the “everything’s amazing” empty kind of positivity in favor of a more realistic and therefore more expansive one that I like to call thoughtful positivity.

Trump as a Tiki torch on the cover of Larry R Jacobs’ book, Democracy under Fire
screenshot of Oxford University Press

My thoughtful positivity isn’t easy to maintain, but it pays off every day and in so many ways. Sometimes it even pays off a little bit extra, like with this upcoming book from Oxford University Press! Larry Jacobs’ Democracy under Fire will be out next spring and it will feature Tiki Torch Trump on the cover.


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