Why Can't Great Artists Be Mothers?
A group of rising artists rejects the all-or-nothing, children-versus-art
By Jacoba Urist
May 21, 2015
The art world is full of enduring stereotypes. There’s the myth of the starving artist. The crazy artist. The hermit artist. And then there’s the childless artist— a woman (yes, she’s usually female) so fervidly dedicated to her craft that there’s no room in her life for motherhood. Indeed, some of the greatest visual artists — Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Lee Krasner — had no children. Kids and their constant battery of needs, the argument goes, are incompatible with true creativity. Art is supposed to be an all-consuming enterprise — and now modern parenting is too.
...But there’s a group of rising artists who strongly reject the all-or-nothing, children-versus-art premise. Motherhood, they argue, has increased the complexity of their work and intensified their perspectives, whether or not their subject matter is domestic life. And they believe that the art world is slowly warming to the idea that great artists can also be great mothers.
That doesn’t mean art mythologies don’t apply. These women — like their male or childless counterpart s— immerse themselves in their work to the point of compulsivity. “Art, in any form, demands that you turn yourself inside out. You must be obsessed for it to be any good,” explained Cig Harvey, an artist, based in Rockport, Maine, whose photography has been called “visual fiction” or “magic realism.” Harvey captures nature and ordinary objects — a bird’s nest, sprig of flowers, or woman’s hands — in a dreamlike state. Her new book, Gardening at Night, and current solo Boston show, explore “family, time, and nature through the eyes of a new mother.” Despite the myth, said Harvey, mother to 3-year old Scout, you can be obsessed with two things — art and your child. Missouri photographer, Julie Blackmon is known for edgy parodies of home life — a terrified infant being tossed in the air, (a subject one curator labeled ripe for cliché). She told Art News about balancing passion and motherhood: When your kid tells you that he had to eat croutons for breakfast because he couldn’t find anything else, you know you’ve gone too far.
“Art is mirroring and life became more complicated and richer in my opinion after Scout was born,” explained Harvey. “But the world was also much more terrifying to me.”
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