Blog / 2023 / Mistake #4: Worrying About Being Too Sensitive

April 20, 2023

2023 is the year my art career turns twenty. To celebrate this milestone artiversary, I’m doing a blog series about everyday errors, because, if I had to choose one reason why I’m still making art after all this time, it’s that I refused to let these little blunders stop me.

So far, I’ve written about resisting change as well as publishing so-so work and copying others. Today’s installment of the Goof-up Gala has to do with the artist’s sensitivity—the thing that both makes and breaks great art.

[video transcript]

Whenever my sensitivity is causing me problems—when I’ve taken someone’s comment about my art too personally, when the creeping facism in my progressive town gets me down, or when, in the course of a few days, kids are shot for knocking on the wrong door or going to the wrong car in a parking lot, for example—I try to keep in mind that the reason why I hurt so much is also why I love so much. It doesn’t make the pain any easier, but it does help me to keep making art.

painting of a cute little boy wearing yellow glasses
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on canvas
21 x 26 inches

I am an awfulizer and an awe-full-izer. I worry a lot: about fascism and COVID and pandemics to come, about racism and ableism and misogyny. And I’m also full of wonder at our world: at its everyday beauty, at how complicated it can be, and at how simple it is. Awful stuff and stuff that inspires awe: both take up a lot of space in my mind.

Over the years, my sensitivity—and especially my sensitivity to bad things—has been criticized again and again. I’ve been told that I need to just let my worries go—chill out! I’ve been told that I can’t get so personally involved in so many things.

Except that the part of me that’s so freaked out about the state of our world is the same part of me that finds existence so exhilarating. These two modes in my mind are inextricably tied to each other and to my ability to make art. If I actually chilled out, as many people tell me to, I don’t think I’d want to make paintings anymore, because my art is an expression of my deepest feelings.

So I’m going to keep on wondering and delighting at the way this little boy is enjoying seeing the world through yellow-tinted glasses. I’m going to keep on tapping into feelings of everyday awe and gratitude, and I’m going to keep on finding ways to share them with others.

My sensitivity may be a liability at times, but I don’t need to quash it completely—as if that were even possible. I just need to find ways to live with it.

Because I’m an awfulizer and an awe-full-izer, and I’m proud of it.

This video is made with love and microdonations from my community!

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