From the Archives

From the Archive – Help Desk: The Biggest/Littlest Decision

Our intrepid columnist is on the road this week, so today we bring you a popular Q&A from our archive. It’s good to note that support for parent–artists is increasing: The Bemis Center has a six-week residency with on-site child care in 2016; Kala Art Institute offers ten Parent Artist Residency Awards with a stipend of $1,000 each; and The Present Group is currently accepting nominations for the Present Prize #4: Family Matters. If you know of other forms of support, we hope you’ll leave a note in the comments.

Louise Bourgeois. The Curved House, 1990; Marble, 14 x 37 x 13 in.

Louise Bourgeois. The Curved House, 1990; marble; 14 x 37 x 13 in.

I’ve now reached the age where the question regarding children has become increasingly relevant. To have or not to have? How does a successful artist combine her career with her life as a mother?

In the three-year history of this column, never have I been so uniquely unqualified to answer a question. Not only do I not have a child, but at no time have I ever experienced a pang for one. Additionally, I have the gift of a mother who never pressured me to produce grandkids; instead, when I asked what might happen if I skipped that particular life experience, she merely shrugged and said, “Not everyone has to have children.” Still, for some people it is life’s best and greatest adventure, and since that’s how I got here, I won’t contradict them. The important thing is that you choose what’s right for you.

I reached out to some artist−mothers to find out how they combine career and motherhood. Desirée Holman suggests you start by asking yourself some hard questions about your goals and your lifestyle: “What’s your ambition, or what level of an art career do you want to have? How much do you want to be working? What’s your standard for parenting, and how do you feel about outsourcing the care of a young child? How well do you deal with the world on less than a full night’s sleep? What’s your support system—is there a partner involved, or a family support structure? Is there money? Do you have high standards about how clean your house is going to be? Are you willing to take a part-time approach, or even a hiatus, for the first several years of your child’s life, and then ease back into your career?” She notes, “These are all substantial parts of the life/time management of a mother and artist.”

Louise Bourgeois. Maman, 1999; Steel and Marble; 30 feet 5 inches x 29 feet 3 inches x 33 feet 7 inches

Louise Bourgeois. Maman, 1999; steel and marble; 30 ft. 5 in. x 29 ft. 3 in. x 33 ft. 7 in.

Holman summarized her thoughts thusly: “I believe that the biggest factors that can influence the successful integration of motherhood with an artistic career are how much time it actually takes to produce your work, your support structure and resources, and your personal economy. There are a lot of great artists who are also moms.”

Michele Pred was willing to share her own experience: “My immediate response is to have a very supportive partner and also be able to keep a lot of balls in the air. I think having a baby in the midst of your (successful) career is the best time. I was in three museum shows in the first twelve months of my daughter’s life and I created a public project as well. The museum shows had been set up far in advance, so the work was already created; this worked out nicely since I didn’t make much new work in the first year. I hired a nanny two days a week so I could still create a little bit of work, and I went back to teaching again when she was eight months old. My biggest fear was that I might get ‘too far away’ from my career. Consequently I started gearing up more when she was eighteen months old and I put her in daycare. I worked really hard, and when she was two years old, I had two solo shows and was in numerous group exhibitions.”

Louise Bourgeois. Ode à l’oubli. 2002. Fabric illustrated book with 35 compositions: 32 fabric collages, 2 with ink additions, and 3 lithographs (including cover), page (each approx.): 11 3/4 x 13” (29.8 x 33 cm); overall: 11 x 12 3/16 x 1 ¾” (28 x 31 x 4.5cm). © 2013 Louise Bourgeois Trust

Louise Bourgeois. Ode à l’oubli, 2002; fabric illustrated book with 35 compositions: 32 fabric collages, 2 with ink additions, and 3 lithographs (including cover); page (each approx.): 11 3/4 x 13 in. (29.8 x 33 cm); overall: 11 x 12 3/16 x 1 ¾ in. (28 x 31 x 4.5cm). © 2013 Louise Bourgeois Trust.

Pred continues, “I will say that I strongly felt pressure and an assumption from the art world that I would not return to my art career, but this only made me work harder to ensure that it wouldn’t happen. It is sometimes a challenging balance, but I am certainly a much better mother continuing my art practice. I will also add that I advise my students to wait to have kids if they want to have a successful career as an artist.”

These are but two stories in a sea of different experiences, and I hope that artist−parents of all genders will be willing to share theirs in the comments section below. In the end, the most important question may be: What is your definition of success? This applies to your life with your partner (relationship success), your child (parenting success), and your career (professional success). You need to think very carefully about your expectations for life, and you and your partner will also need to have any number of conversations about your individual and shared priorities and intentions. Before taking any steps forward, make sure you’re both clear on where you stand about parenting, money, and the allocation of time. Good luck!

Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.