Blog / 2022 / Making Special

October 18, 2022

Art “makes special.”

This concept comes from the anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake’s book Homo Aestheticus, and it has a double meaning:

  1. That art is a celebration of the importance of its subject.
  2. The act of turning a particular object, place, theme, or living being into art makes that subject special since it suggests that the subject is worthy of inspiring painting, sculpture, video, text, music, or other art-making.

  3. That an everyday object can be imbued with the specialness of art.
  4. The care that goes into the creation of a particular mug, for example, marks that vessel as exceptional. It’s different from other objects that have the same function, because of the thoughtfulness and craft that’s put into the making of it.

I love the way that “making special” encompasses so much of what art can be, without separating so-called “fine” art from craft. From the moment I first heard the phrase, it resonated not only with what I was already doing in my art, but with what I wanted for my life.

Mayor Andrew Nowick painting by Lambertville artist Gwenn Seemel
painting process

The “making special” in my work is pretty obvious, specifically in the portraiture I do. I never paint a face because of the way the light falls on it or because the human form is anonymously fascinating to me. I’m interested in the person and in making them feel special.

The “making special” in my life is more subtle. It’s in the thoughtfulness with which I try to approach my world, in everything from the books I read to the flowers I pass on my daily walks. It doesn’t mean I only read serious books or only think serious thoughts about the flora I encounter, but more that I try to stay present in the moment, experiencing beauty in its more mundane expressions as well as in the magnificently multifaceted ones.

This thoughtfulness is ultimately what led me to Lambertville, because, in this small Jersey town, the baseline of “making special” with art and in life is incredibly high. I’m not sure how exactly it started, but the people who move here aren’t usually the sort who like to coast, consuming whatever the ads tell them to and otherwise mindlessly repeating all the worst crap in our culture. They know this town is special. That specialness attracted them to this place, and there’s a general desire to nurture it.

Andrew Nowick, Mayor of Lambertville, acrylic painted portrait, created by Lambertville artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on paper
7 x 5 inches

Which is what I’m doing with a new body of work called Friend Request—a title which is explained in this post. This series of 44 portraits includes Mayor Andrew Nowick, as shown above, along with many of the other people and pets of Lambertville who’ve made me feel most welcome since I moved here seven months ago.

The show starts this weekend in the window of Winifred Weiss’ studio on Church Street!

Winifred’s studio window
17 Church Street
(at the intersection with George)
Lambertville, NJ 08530

Open: October 22nd through November 30th
Hours: whenever (you can look in from the street)
Reception: Saturday November 5th from 1p to 3p

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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