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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Why do you do what you do?

It is possible to be a successful woman artist and mother, if one has an exceptional husband, good time-management skills, and an iron will.
Daddy's little helper, 2015, Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday I was reveling in the simplicity of my job. I had planned no deep thinking; it would be a day alone with my brushes.

That never works. “Why do you do what you do?” asked a regular reader.

The easy answer is that it’s the only thing I know how to do. A little honesty compels me to admit that this isn’t entirely true. I can write. I could retire if I want. Clearly, something besides necessity drives me.

In fact, my reader sensed that. “Why do you teach, travel all over the place, produce as much work as you do?” she continued. “Is working at that pace a habit, or something deeper?”

Maternité, 1890, Mary Cassatt. Cassatt, the greatest painter of the mother-child bond, had no children of her own.
Yes, I was raised to work hard, and it’s an ingrained habit. Still, I do take time off. A chance conversation with a Mennonite contractor years ago turned me into a Sabbatarian. He explained what a tremendous gift a regularly-scheduled Sabbath day was. There are a few weekends a year I can’t take off, but in general, you’ll find me working six days and resting on the seventh.

I like painting and I like being on the road. I like the challenge of sizing up new places and trying to reformat them to a 12X16 canvas.

But mostly, I work like this because I can. It’s a pleasure and a shock to be free of day-to-day responsibility for others. Yesterday, I mentioned a Tracey Emin quote about parenting. Here it is in full:

I would have been either 100% mother or 100% artist. I’m not flaky and I don’t compromise. Having children and being a mother… It would be a compromise to be an artist at the same time. I know some women can. But that’s not the kind of artist I aspire to be. There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They are called men. It’s hard for women. It’s really difficult, they are emotionally torn. It’s hard enough for me with my cat.

When I first started painting full time, another woman artist told me much the same thing. The evidence supported her statement. Most artists (of either gender) in our circle were childless. Those with children also had wives who supported both their family and their art careers.

Mutter mit Jungen, 1933, Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz is an exception to rule that says mothers can’t make good artists.

That realization came close to derailing me. I was struggling to make enough time for my kids and art, but the historical reality seemed to be that women with children would always be second-rate painters.

I’m glad I didn’t learn that before the kids were irrevocable. They’re certainly the best work I’ve ever done.

Now that I’m beyond child-care, I think it’s a case where history is not necessarily destiny. Gender roles have changed tremendously in the last century. It is possible for a woman to combine competent child-rearing and any career, provided she has an exceptional husband, good time-management skills, and an iron will.

But the question my reader asked is an important one. There are many easier ways to live. Why do we do what we do?


Annette said...

A passion isn't work. When I had my horse Skip, I at first worked off half if my monthly board. Which was really kind if funny to me, because before I had Skip, I was working on that farm for free, just to be able to be immersed in my pation for horses, and I never considered it work. It was what gave live and spark a zest for this life. It was never work. It was rarely easy, but never work and I miss it so much. So I imagine art, your work, must be the same. You find yourself, in what you are doing, or what you have overlooked, and you find peace.

Annette said...

I tried to correct spelling but I couldn't. I hit send too soon and oh how I love auto correct 😉

Carol Douglas said...

Autocorrect is your friend. Hahaha!

The difference there, I think, is in juggling anything for too many hours. No matter how much you love it, ultimately too much work burns you out. I'm trying to learn to pace myself. It's not going well.

BTW, I will be demoing tomorrow afternoon at the Boothbay Windjammer Festival if you're around.

Cat Pope said...

History is not necessarily destiny. :)