I recently watched a documentary about Alice Neel, in which her sons seemed to blame their dysfunctional lives on their mother’s decision to choose painting over them. It’s hard for me not to be irritated by the fact that if Alice Neel were a man, there would be no discussion about her “abandonment” of her children, there are no such discussions about Picasso’s abandoned children in documentaries about him. Rather than make an art film focused on Alice Neels’ work, a documentary was created with the overarching theme of how because she was a good artist, she was also a bad mother.
I recognize this choice. If I want to spend the necessary quality time with my son, I must sacrifice the necessary quality time it takes to make art. The decision to become a mother was a very calculated and sought after aspect on my part. I intentionally wanted a child and waited a long year for him to come along. Now that I am a mother, I see the full reality of what being a mother is. All the time, effort, pain, sweat, glory, unrecognized sacrifice that no one other than another mother would ever know exists stares me plainly in the face each day. No one but another mother knows. Women without children do not know. Fathers who act as single parents do not know. To be a mother is a singular experience only known to women who care for children as their own.
The “woman” aspect of being an artist has always frustrated me. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you can’t help but make art like a woman, and in this world, that can be seen in a number of negative ways. Hopefully this will get better, but I don’t see that yet. Add “mother” to the equation of artist, and if you make art about being a mother, watch your art get dangerously close to being completely disregarded. The same old double standards still exist.
I feel I have this choice to make, or rather, I already made the choice. Devote your life to one thing and do it well. The other parts are just extra. It’s a daily struggle. Who I was before can no longer exist. I must constantly remind myself not to be selfish, and also to be selfish. But how can we balance it all, the full time job/career, the family life, friends, art, physical and mental well being is still an elusive act. So I must surmise that there is no such thing as balance. One part must be more important than another, but try not to sacrifice yourself completely or you could get lost. If I don’t take that time for myself it will take its toll on me, and affect those around me.
I love being a mother and it pains me so at the same time. In our society I feel that mothers are not allowed to tell it like it really is. It is this burden that we bear, we must keep secret from the unmothers, so that they will want to have children and procreate to further the gene pool. Being a mother is wonderful, and it is all consuming, sad, full filling, and overwhelming. The best and the worst. Being a mother makes me an entirely better person. I have to be better at everything. I have to be more patient, more prepared, more organized, and on and on. I just always have to be better, and it never stops changing. As my child grows, I grow with him.
Art comes second. I have made this conscious decision, that my child will come first. Art will be what I can do if I get a chance. Being a mother of course completely affects my art and maybe that’s why I am not interested in making “things” anymore. I prefer the installation, the experience, the performance to making an object that hangs on a wall. Maybe it has to do with who my child is, how we interact together. I don’t know, but I know I am different because I am a mother.
I am part of the Mother Load project because I am very interested in how women, mothers are treated in society. All of what we do, goes so undetected, unrecognized, it is amazing to me the selflessness in which mothers act. In our ever evolving global society, how can women still struggle with so much stereotyping and unequal treatment? Especially mothers, who do so much for the world, how can mothers not be seen as authority figures, beacons of knowledge, leaders of communities? As artists, how can mothers not be seen as an entire genre, art movement or legitimate art historical perspective? The Mother Load seems like a good place for us to begin/continue. So let’s tell our story.