Today is one of those days when I need to search for a topic to write about. I have been racing to get some of the new work ready to frame for a Christmas group show at our local Piante gallery. I have to deliver right after Thanksgiving and will do my best to have it all ready before the family convenes and happy chaos reigns. There hasn’t been a lot of time to think.
Behold! I knew if I just started to write the topic would declare itself. What better than to focus on gratitude for this good life? When I am about to spend time with the family I think about the miracle it is to have raised four children who have become responsible adults. The world seems to me so full of threat, tragedy lurking around every corner, that the fact that all four have reached middle age free of major illnesses or accidents, or a life of crime or addiction, seems nothing short of wonderful.
I didn’t know I wanted children. It was the fifties and I took for granted that was how my life was to play out. And so they came and I’m glad now that I didn’t know I could make a decision about it. I might have opted to devote myself to painting and not give away all the time and energy a family requires. I could make a list of women artists who followed that path starting with Mary Cassat, Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’ Keefe, and including writers Joyce Carol Oates, Gertrude Stein, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf and many others in all disciplines. Of course the list of famous artist mothers might be much longer but I can’t seem to find that list on the web. There is a good documentary about the artist/mother: Who Does She Think She Is ?, but none of these are household names. There are many in the movie business, but as in the film I just mentioned, the marriages are not often long-lived and there are endless accounts of neglected children.
To paraphrase writer Susan Rubein Suleiman, perhaps the greatest struggle for a woman artist who has or desires children is the struggle against herself. No amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other. I might have reached greater heights career-wise had I remained in New York after graduation and stayed with painting to the exclusion of most else. Who knows? I might even have become a better painter. Maybe our psychology (or biology) somehow protects us from regret; I have none. If I could go back in time with the knowledge I have now (and modern means of contraception) I would again bring these four into the world. There’s nothing selfless about doing art or about procreating; both are selfish activities. The world certainly has enough paintings and more than enough lives. But no apologies for either indulgence. They are what make my life so good.
My children might argue now about where my priorities really are. But hear this, dearly beloved ingrates: the only reason I don’t turn off the telephone in my studio is that one of you might need me for something. Though very often that something is a recipe. A friend remarked that for this chapter of my life: “All you have to do is show up.” Not completely true as I am still in charge of turkey, stuffing and gravy. But no complaints. Cooking feels like time off for me now.
No blog post next week: Happy Thanksgiving to all.
P.S. Now that moving is a sure thing, I am selling earlier work that I am not actively marketing at a 50% reduction in price. This includes some of my personal collection. Just call or email to set up a time to visit the studio or for any questions.
The image above, Exposure, ©1996, is one of the paintings included in the moving sale. It is a mixed media collage on canvas, measuring 17” x 44”.