This is my third year writing about being a mother and an artist. This type of post bubbles up in my mind every year as my children’s summer vacation starts. In speaking with a friend the other day about this very topic I was able to articulate that being a mother requires immediate attention of another human’s presence all of the time we are together. From the mundane things like making lunches to the important things like tucking them in at night (this is when they actually talk to me). Often those immediate needs will push back the not-so-immediate (my art) and next thing I know I have not created anything in weeks.
Being a mother certainly affects my artwork in multiple ways- why, what, and how I make my work, but this time of year it is the time I can give to my art practice that is most affected. In the past, summer means that I usually take on more of their care and my studio work gets moved to the back burner. Now that the boys are 10 and 8 years old, I feel that there has been a shift and time is not as much of an issue. They are getting their own life beyond ours together. It is bitter sweet.
Olin Sailing in the Charleston Harbor
This year they are going to learn how to sail, make art, play baseball, karate chop stuff at the DOJO, and spend some quality time with the grandparents. In between all that we will be doing our usual summer time beach and pool time. This means I have the gift of time I haven’t had for ten years during the summer. I will be teaching two classes this summer so my teaching prep will be a bit heavy, but I will definitely have some serious studio time.
What I did at the end of May was set up my studio so that I have ongoing projects I can step into at any time. Here are a few pictures of my studio today.
Ongoing Mixed Media work
Well, it’s a good start. I will check in with you at the end of the summer to see how I have done with my studio work.
I completed this piece recently and it won an “Honorable Mention” at the Piccolo Spoleto Exhibition I was included in, which was organized by the Charleston Artist Guild. I was surprised because my work is so different than much of what is exhibited in this town. I think all we can do is chart our own path in this art world and make a choice to keep making the work, despite financial, time, or creative challenges. I know that is easier said than done, but I am in it for the long run.
Some people argue that Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday. I see that commercialism side to it but this year I want to focus on it as a day of awareness of the most important of human qualities- our ability to love. As I age I see that this is the only thing that matters. Really.
Below is an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Peace Is Every Day.
“The meditation on love is not just sitting still and visualizing that our love will spread out into space like waves of sound or light. Sound and light have the ability to penetrate everywhere, and love and compassion can do the same. It is in the midst of our daily life and in our actual contact with others that we can know whether our mind of love is really present. The source of love is deep in us, and we can help others realize a lot of happiness. One word, one action, or one thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him or her joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. If love is in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle.”
One thought, one word. I will look for my opportunity to genuinely show another my deepest love. I won’t purchase anything for anyone this year, but instead give this simple gift. I hope you do too.
As the last day of summer slipped away yesterday I am reminded of a favorite phrase I once heard from another Mom: “the days are long and the years are short”.
My boys return to school today bright with anticipation of a fresh start to the new year. The first day is always full of this optimism and joy at getting new books, wearing brand new shoes, hearing what they will learn about this year, and most importantly seeing their friends again. As the week progresses the work load they are expected to carry will set in and they will not have the optimism that they have today. Isn’t that true for all of us though? Starting something new is always exciting because the reality of it has yet to be lived. I created this altered photo as a tribute to a great summer spent together. I know these moments are fleeting with my boys and want to enjoy every single minute with them.
This past Spring I was busily working on my sculptures and have recently had them photographed by Leigh Webber. I have learned the hard way that paying for excellent photos will always help you down the road. I have been taking these photographs and talking with local gallery owners as well as applying for exhibitions out of state. I am really thrilled with how they developed.
“Keepers of the Oldest Memories”, 2011
I have been very attentive to honing my craft of assemblage, image transfers, and wood working. I began this series thinking it was about my visceral response while in nature. Being in nature, or should I say feeling a part of nature, has always inspired and directed new work for me. It actually was not until I was almost finished with the ten new sculptures that I realized, in fact, that these have always been about my inquiry into learning in our contemporary society.
It was just that being in nature put all of my thoughts into perspective. In nature I can more easily see the bigger picture of life. I can distinguish what is important and what is not when I stick my toes on the edge of the vast ocean, dip my paddle into the endless rivers here in South Carolina, or walk among the ancient live oak trees. I came to realize that nature is my muse for speaking about what really matters. This understanding led me back to my thoughts on education. Education has always been an integral part of my practice as an artist (another important aspect that Laura and I share). I have been a teacher for over twenty years in a variety of settings for ages 0-85.
“To Touch the Moment With All Our Senses”, 2011
How could all these experiences with other people NOT affect my art practice. It was in graduate school where I realized how much more rich my work could become if I delved deeper into this. My own trial and error at developing the craft of teaching, explaining (which often changes depending on who I am talking with- even with the same lesson), interpersonal skills, and creating engaging lessons has the end reward of witnessing another person understanding and learning. It is an incredible process and one I enjoy greatly. Now that I am teaching adults at the local university I am gaining experiences that are deepening my art practice in a number of ways. I believe that is why this series of new work has proven to come back to my original question I had three years ago “What do you know?”.
I have witnessed a wrong turn in education. It has been a slow turn so I think many people have not noticed we are headed toward a dead end. It relates to standardized testing. Standardized tests not only minimize a person and what she/he knows, they have major problems such as gender bias and racial injustice (to only name a few).
“Changing the Notion of Aging”, 2010
So, what do I do as a teacher? Most of us feel powerless and just ride along. I, for one, can’t keep riding. I see a loss of creativity and critical thinking for the students and the instructors. I see a future workplace that is in demand for creative thinkers (think of all the information we have gathered through science….now we need some creative people to start connecting the dots) and an education system that is squashing it. Standardized tests are ruling who goes to college, funding, policies, broad labeling of schools, and teacher quality. It is a fact we need improvement in our education system, we are educating more people than ever before in history, but gathering data through a one-size-fits-all method just won’t cut it.
These sculptures certainly voice my opinion on this subject where otherwise I feel pretty insignificant voicing my opinion to the politicians. Perhaps seeing these ideas played out in artwork will do double duty: 1- give voice to an important issue in education 2- demonstrate to the community that art is more than a pretty picture, art is about ideas and conversation.
If you don’t think this issue affects you, think about the people who will be working for you in the next ten to twenty years. Will they have the skills to critically and creatively work through your business problems, work effectively with other people, and contribute to the community as a whole?
“Tranquil Wise Counsel”, 2011
I still feel that I have more work to do on this topic and clearly it is something that will be ongoing in my visual art and teaching practice. If you want to see more check out my website. The link is on the right side bar —>
I will be heading out of town to see some family and will be in touch here and there as we head north. Otherwise Laura and I will be back with our regular posts when I get back. Hope you are all enjoying these warm days! I appreciate you reading about my work and stopping in here at our blog.
I seem to write an annual post about being an artist and parent this time of year. HERE is last year’s post. I suppose I’ll make this an annual post. On the verge of spending a lot more time with my two young sons I always start to plan how to maintain my studio practice. I am primarily the caregiver in the summer given my hours as a teacher while my husband works full time (although he does have a very flexible schedule) but lately my schedule has changed and I have picked up some hours teaching at Redux Contemporary Art Center and Trident College.
This summer in between teaching and parenting I must squeeze in the time for a regular art practice. This is always a decision. I often hear people say they do not have time for their art practice and I know how that feels having a life full of responsibilities to a job (outside of being an artist), household, people, pets, garden, local organizations, reading, politics, etc (you can come up with a list of your own I am sure). In the beginning I always felt defeated by how little time I do get for my art in the summer. I want to be realistic of course, but I don’t believe the choice to stop working is the right one. I have done this and it has taken me months to get the gears going again. So, again, I say this is a decision.
I always have grand plans at the beginning of the summer and I usually get to perhaps 20% of them. That 20% is better than 0%! Sometimes I fall into the trap of saying “so many other people have so much more time than I do (insert whiny voice)”, but I now say f-that. I always have my mornings to write ideas, my evenings to be with my work, and the in between times to sketch or add a piece or two to a sculpture. These small movements forward are important and I now know they define and inform my practice as a whole. As a good friend told me “you must see your practice for the forest and not the tree”. Yes, when I think of twenty years from now and how I might look back at this time I have a feeling I will realize how raising my children and teaching are such an integral part of my process and that an ebb and flow of productivity is a natural element of that. And guess what….that is what I create art about! My work is all about being a woman, mother, and teacher.
Another important point is how acutely aware I am that to live in this century and have the right to even be an artist and mother is pretty amazing. It was not too long ago that this conversation would not even exist because women artists were not taken seriously by the general public. THAT is a great topic for another post.
My point in sharing all this is that so many mothers and fathers out there have this struggle and I wanted to say don’t stop working over the summer. Find a small thing that you work on every day or maybe it is just once a week. Maybe it is a time for reading that book on that artist you have been wanting to learn more about or some literature on contemporary art or seeing (taking the kids) to an art exhibit every couple of weeks. It is a great time to reflect and think if there really is no time for getting your hands dirty in the studio.
This summer I plan on developing a series of drawings I have been thinking about for the last few months. It will be a series about my experiences as a mother I can tell you that much, but I hesitate to expand further since I never really know where my thoughts will end up once I get into the work. I plan to work on this early in the mornings (I get up faithfully at 5:30am when I have a quiet house and nobody needs me) and tucked in between moments during the day (this is my first summer with my studio at home so I will be interested to see how much I do get done). I don’t work at night because I am just too tired and my creative brain just isn’t there.
I hope this helps all of you out there rethink the potential of summer if you are caring for young children. It is a great opportunity to take a deep breath with your children, spend some quality time with those you love, get things in perspective, write, read, and make the most out of pockets of time during the day. Everyone has pockets of time, it is just deciding to use them to your advantage rather than letting them slip away with the summer heat.