Blog / 2022 / The Dreaded “You Should”

September 22, 2022

Maybe people see me as an easy target: I look pretty young and I’m a woman (sort of). Perhaps that’s why I get so much advice. Or then again, maybe I get the normal amount of you-should-ing from the world, but I let it annoy me more than the usual amount.

Whatever it is, I really dislike it when people tell me how to run my business.

I mean, I’ll listen—one of these know-it-alls might end up actually knowing something after all—but the recommendations are almost universally garbage. And the most throwaway of all the advice always has to do with how to be a real artist, à la:

You’ll never be taken seriously as an artist if you do commission work.

No one will see you as a true artist if you paint pets.

Real artists don’t paint on tote bags.

Because the thing about being “taken seriously” as an artist is that it’s wildly subjective. Since the only marker that actually matters is the one that you choose, I hope you know what the sign of a serious artist is in your world.

For some, the defining factor will be the ability to make a living as an artist. For others the money-making component won’t be as important, either because they have a day job suits them or they have family wealth. Many think that institutional validation is where it’s at. They’ll be of the opinion that a real artist must have their work in the collections of well-known patrons and important museums.

All of these ideas are valid. You just need to figure out what’s meaningful to you.

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Here’s my definition (which applies only to me):

A true artist is one who can support themselves with their art and make the work they want to make, no matter how political it is.

And because I’m not independently wealthy and neither my partner or I have day jobs, my definition means I sometimes paint pet portraits, as shown here.

black lab portrait by pet painter and Lambertville artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
20 x 16 inches

I make political art to my heart’s content—everything from a quietly subversive ABC book to the more in-your-face sort of commentary that lands in Newsweek—but it pleases me to create more personal pieces now and again, both for myself and for others. There’s a lot to be said for the private revolution of an individual deciding to honor their furry loved one, especially because that private revolution is tied to another important one: the revolution of an individual spending hard earned dollars on art.

It may seem a small gesture—a simple consumer decision—but it’s so much more. When you support independent artists, you are making it clear that art matters. You’re saying “yes” to beauty and human understanding.

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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