Parenting: Artists join forces with motherly concerns
Being an artist can be difficult, but being an artist and a mother creates extra challenges
‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall,” Cyril Connolly wrote in Enemies of Promise, an autobiographical account of his own failure as a fiction writer. Inspired by the challenges faced in balancing motherhood with working arts practice, a group of Irish artists recently formed a network and action group to address these very issues.
What are the changes in perception when an artist becomes a mother? How can she balance public visibility and the intense nature of the work with the responsibilities of family life? How can she justify the precarity of income when she has dependents? And does a male artist-parent face similar challenges?
On a rainy Wednesday morning at Broadstone Studios on Harcourt Terrace, 14 artists and some of their children have gathered to discuss the theme of “time and money”.
The room in the redbrick arts and crafts building has enough space for romping toddlers to push buggies around, and there are some crafts materials on hand to keep older children busy.
Barry, who has a studio further down the corridor, has refreshments ready when thirst and hunger strike. Browne has set up her laptop so that anyone who cannot make it to the meeting can participate remotely, although one artist has come from as far as Waterford for today’s session.
O’Sullivan is writing a list of topics for discussion: time is limited, children need to be picked up from creche and those present will only co-operate for so long.
As she comments later, “motherhood makes you very efficient with your time”.
Creating a piece of art is like hatching an egg or carrying a child inside you for nine months. It is not something that can be produced on demand. The big challenge for mother-artists, all at the meeting agree, is how to manage time – a commodity which becomes precious when you have a family.
O’Sullivan says the new constraints can have their advantages. “You manage your time a lot better, but you do miss the deeper relationship that you can have with your work when you can work at your own pace and immerse yourself.”
Olivia Hassett, a mother of two, agrees. “It basically changes the nature of the work that you do. It makes you feel guilty if you don’t produce something tangible or if you aren’t getting paid.”
Although the quality of the work itself may not necessarily suffer, the artists agree that it is easy to fall behind in other things, like networking, because your practice is the most important thing.
Many of the mothers lament the traditional six o’clock opening of exhibitions, a key networking opportunity for artists who often work in isolation.