Mothers who are artists and artists who are mothers
Last night I came back home from three full days saturated by creativity at the Southern Graphics Council International Conference. Despite being inspired, overwhelmed and satiated by the immense variety of creativity around me, one episode seems to linger in my mind.... The conference organizes demonstrations of certain techniques so printmakers can expand their repertoire and one such demo was given by the artist Monika Meler- A young mother with two little children. For a good part of the demonstration, she had her younger son - a few months old, strapped to her back in a carrier. She moved gracefully and comfortably between mixing and rolling out ink with a good sized roller, inking her surfaces and cranking the press to make her beautiful diffused relief prints. At one point, her son reached out and grabbed the roll of tape and started unravelling it. This kept him busy for a while and finally started crying about an hour into the demo... The crowd cheered as Monika handed him off to a friend so she can complete what she started.
The whole time, I was moved by Monika's comfort in juggling both her roles as mother and artist and blown away by her grace. There was a time when I had my first child at 25, struggling to attend art school and take care of my new baby. I never felt such grace. I wanted both to be perfect, to be the best artist I could be and the best mother I could be and so I was never satisfied. Never felt that I could do justice to either roles. It was always a challenge maybe because I tried to keep the two worlds of motherhood and art separate. For them to exist in the same space and time seemed chaotic, conflicting and exhausting. What I craved was brain space, a moment to reflect and focus on art. To think about compositions, colors and materials seemed trivial in the face of taking care of young life- a delicate and vulnerable piece of me that needed to be nurtured and kept safe in order to become her own.
And so, I gave up my art school and became a full time mother, homemaker. It wouldn't be until several years later that I felt I could reenter the art world as a part time student. It would take me 16 years to finish my BFA and MFA, between many moves and gaps in time. Now, with my youngest son, almost out the door at 16, I feel like I have all the time in the world to create my work, to immerse myself in what feels like I am meant to do in this life. But doubts remain. Especially when I see people like Monika Meler and my friend Jessica M. Ganger who travelled to the conference with her son Isaac who is 10. I have never seen a more patient 10 year old sitting through what must seem like endless meetings and lectures and conversations. Yes, there were moments of frustration. What 10 year old wouldn't lose it after a day filled with such activities? Isaac has such a keen sense of design and makes observations on art so naturally. We walked into a hotel lobby and he immediately noticed that the artwork was "somewhat okay". He has opinions on colors and helps his mother install, edit and is a consistent presence in her studio and office. Is this what it must be like to grow up where art is immersed in your life from the beginning? Did I do an injustice to my children by not letting them grow up fully immersed in the creative world? What would they be like if I somehow let the two worlds coexist? Would they be richer, more creative and happier people?