October 17, 2012 Repository 22: Artist Mother Panel Discussion Posted In: art practice, contemporary art, culture, perspective, social critique

There was a panel discussion of mother artists ranging in age and discipline today at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The panel was moderated by Sharon Butler, artist, mother and writer of a blog. I’m sorry I couldn’t attend, but believe the intention was right and hope the discussion was honest.

Sharon wrote a very thoughtful article in the Brooklyn Rail in 2008 about views on motherhood and the modern and contemporary artist. While I am sensitive to these discussions, and curious to see how people manage the challenges, I’m still not convinced it has anything to do with someone’s practice. Besides the obvious – childcare, and the need for time alone in the studio or wherever one does their best thinking.

I remember after having my daughter in the midst of having a studio at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin. Frequently people assumed I would bring my daughter to the studio while I worked. My response was always to ask if they had ever seen their dentist’s children in their offices. Point being, I adore my children and they are ever present in spirit, but work is work and focus is focus.

I believe the children in your life create fodder for your art whether you realize, or choose not to realize it. Having children turns your world upside down, and this is a very good vantage point for artists I believe. The thought of hiding your pregnancy seems arcane, and I’m sorry to hear that people do that. Though this is the norm in all industry, and is not art specific.

I would love for female artists to put their own spin on the amazing resource that is motherhood and parenthood. I’d love to see them use a new language, and not one that is necessarily harnessed to the renaissance paintings of mother and child such as Jenny Saville and Catherine Opie‘s work has done. Why not really delve into the fractured space that is motherhood without apology? Without control and systems, but sitting in its complete chaos. I think Sally Mann has done an amazing job of this in the course of her work – her perspective is colored by the ambisextrous lens that is motherhood, and the ability to look closely and patiently at some of life’s most inexplicable things.

I also would love to see a male artist explore the mysteries of the domestic and family rearing – it’s serious stuff and no tender painting of a mother and child can ever convey the intensity of the endeavor. Though that tenderness is always present and can never be denied. Just as positive space must exist to confirm the negative.

And why on earth is everyone so anxious about the domestic? Why is it unnerving to be pregnant, or assumed bourgeois that you have a family that you tend to? It all seems silly to me, and I hope that we continue on a spiral of support systems for artists with or without families, and choose to look at the sensitivities of “baby art” as Sharon calls it, as important and nuanced – it’s not all so obvious what a woman’s experience is after the intense moment that is child birth.

Image is of artwork by Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document 1973-1979


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