Subject = Motherhood; How to make art while making humans.
I’ve been absent for a bit, on account of the new child I’m rearing. His name is Arthur.
He’s a real sweet treat all around. Sleeps well, nurses well, the whole deal. But, whoa! Turns out, 3 kids is a lot. Despite all the help I’ve had in the past 5 weeks (Thank you, generous family and thoughtful friends!), it’s been a wild transition. I’m trying to figure out how to have time for myself... to, like, brush my teeth, eat, and change out of my pj’s. It’s 100% chaos around here, mom. My two older guys, Teddy and James, are like at each other’s throats all day. The only time I take a breather is when Arthur is nursing. I’d forgotten how breastfeeding forces you to sit down for a minute (well, a lotta minutes), and look at your baby. Or your phone. I’ve logged a ton of time on the webs these past few weeks but, huzzah!, I’ve also read a few books, namely Motherhood by Sheila Heti and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (OMG new fave!).
Coincidentally, they both address the relationship (if any) between motherhood and creative work. It’s not a new discussion (Virginia Woolf got it started way back in the day) but, as moms work more and more towards equity as caretakers and professionals, it’s oh-so-important to examine.
These books got me thinking a whole lot about artists who are moms/moms who are artists. I’m continually fascinated by women who are able to create meaningful artwork in the midst of the all the “housework”-the chores, the child-rearing, the emotional labor, etc. While I assume they’d prefer not to be defined by their maternal role, these “mom artists” make a unique contribution to culture because they redefine who gets to partake. In my opinion, some of the most powerful art by women artists embraces this complicated relationship by making it the subject of the work. Instead of rejecting motherhood as a subordinate part of identity, this artwork showcases it as a primary concern.
Photography lends itself easily to “mom art”- you can make lots of images quickly and with just one tool (a camera!). Below are a few of my favorite photographer/mothers on motherhood.
Carrie Mae Weems
Weems’ Kitchen Table Series tells the story of a woman’s life in 20 photos, all set at the kitchen table. View entire series here.
Famous for her controversial “Immediate Family” exhibition, Mann used old photo techniques to document the lives her children in the breathtaking backdrop of rural Virginia. View more of Mann’s work here
Barney is known for her color photos of family and friends. Somehow, she is able to capture relationships, complications and all, in one still frame. More of her work here.
Kurland lived out of a van and traveled across the country with her growing son, Casper. She chronicled their experiences in a series of photos that are filled with the sense of discovery that accompanies both childhood and travel. View more of Kurland’s work here.
These images and the artists behind them challenge me to find the beauty and power in the work of motherhood, especially the messy, frenzied, chaotic bits. Bring on the spills!!
More writing on this topic...
On being Kara Walker’s daughter (via Vice)