Creativity and Motherhood
Willem De kooning made a funny, if sexist, joke to Elaine soon after they got married. Elaine wasn’t very good at cleaning and she was terrible at cooking. Early in their marriage both she and De kooning spent their entire days at home at their respective easels. At the end of one such day of unfettered art making, they sat together, probably hungry, and surveying the wreckage of their home. Dekooning said “ What we need is a wife.”. It’s a curious quote, layered with meaning, because it is both wildly sexist, and at the same time it isn’t. By our standards today it’s outrageous to say that the wife is the one needed to keep a home in order. But it’s a sign of progressive ideals and respect to his wife that he places no expectations on her to fulfill the traditional aspects of that role. He knows that she is an artist.
The story about De kooning’s and Elaine’s domestic life came to mind because when I look around my own house, I have the same sentiment ( in different words). I am not a natural when it comes to keeping our house clean and organized and I really don’t do well with repetitive tasks. Repetitive tasks are what it’s all about as a mother with two small kids and a dog who are always messing the same things up over and over again. Every day you could do another load of laundry, another pile of dishes, another sweeping pick-up and organization of toys, make another attempt at sorting through mounds of clothing and giving some away, another dusting, another clutter removal. And that is all before you move on to the big-energy stuff, like food shopping, cooking, and creating a well decorated and cheerful home. It’s a sisyphean task for sure and for me — on most days, most parts of it are not enjoyable. Still, I keep trying, making a stab at it at least.
Recently while doing these chores an odd thing was happening in my mind. Entire stories in article form, were coming to me, like a flash of light onto the projector screen of my brain. They were received with clarity, each word in tact. I never considered myself a writer so I ignored them at first.. thinking “what is this strange voice in my head?”. But one day during picking up piles, I was pulled, as if by an invisible string, to go to my computer, to sit down and open up Google Docs — and to just write down what was in my head. When I sat down to write instead of to clean, my entire world opened up before me. I was energized, excited, and life seemed full of possibility. I was given so much energy, in fact, that the duller tasks became easier for me to do. I realized that in order to be a strong mother, I needed to be creative every single day — that for me it was not an option, but a requirement. More than needing to keep the house in order, I needed to write, take photographs, paint, renovate, or do a creative project. If that meant that something would not get done in the house, then that would be fine because it could be done later, or not at all.
In many ways this seems like an almost painfully obvious observation.. A creative person should create, even if she’s a mother. For me it came as a revelation instead of as obvious because I was still getting used to all the new obligations of motherhood. I was still working out time management, and honestly, I was confused about how to prioritize my artist-self. Examples of some of my muddled thoughts were “I take painting seriously - so should I force myself to paint right now even though painting requires hours of uninterrupted, meditative thought and all sorts of toxic materials that kids can’t be anywhere near?” “Can I really believe in myself enough to pay a nanny when I don’t really much make money from my painting?” “Or should I become more flexible and see what other types of creativity open up to me?” It came as a complete surprise to me that being flexible and simply deciding to do something, anything at all, fuelled my energy for my most ambitious creative endeavors and my mothering.
After I made the decision that I would face that blank canvas, blank page, or in some other way commit to making something out of nothing each day, the vibe in my house changed. My latent formal parlor that sat empty waiting for stiff furniture, became a place of activity. It’s an office area now, and a creative space for both me and my kids. It’s not Pinterest worthy - and it is not clean and neat. It’s a buzzing hive of toys, crayons, paper-mache projects, half empty coffee cups, photography equipment and canvases. It’s a space I really like to be in - the baby sleeps next to me or sits in my lap while I write or edit photos. Tony makes cityscapes and tableaus with his toys and I go back and forth between arranging still lives and photographing them, writing, or learning new skills. That’s my solution to creativity and motherhood right now. I became very interested in the subject after I realized how much energy it gave me to insist on my right to be a creative mother, even if it takes forms I didn’t expect, and even if I don’t yet make a living from that creativity. I immediately thought of all the other mothers I know who are living their own variations of this theme and I decided I’d like to interview them. As much as prioritizing creativity is necessary for an artist who is a mother, it can also be very challenging financially and mentally, and I am eager to hear other mothers perspectives.
I want to explore the issue in depth - and I may not only be interviewing mothers, but also women who decided not to have children specifically to guard their creative life. I consider this a feminist exercise because it shines a light on a typically shadowy, or even taboo issue, for women. The issue at stake is, where, how (or even if), family life fits in for a woman who has to be creative to be happy. It’s a topic that touches all creative women, whether they had children or not, and I believe that young women should hear every perspective. Other scenarios explored will be: Mothers who make a living off their creative endeavors. Mothers who despite being successful artists or writers, also need to work day jobs and take care of their children. Stay at home mothers whose creativity currently plays out in the home and in the worlds they introduce their children to, and mothers who are working toward making income from their creative endeavors but are not there yet . The thread keeping it together is that creativity of any sort is a priority for these women, sometimes despite, but often in harmony with children.