Wednesday 3 September 2008

The Art of Mothering...

Yesterday was Bantam Boy's birthday. (He is 17!) Rather aptly I received a belated birthday present from Kirti - apt because it was a book called 'The Divided Heart' that is concerned with what it means to be both a mother and an artist. It based a collection of interviews the author has had with a number of artists across a number of art forms including writing, visual art, drama and music. From the first few pages I was laughing and crying simultaneously as I reflected on my own personal experiences in relation to those being discussed.

A part of me felt shamed at my underachieving- in that I am merely a creative person playing with art and that I have not had the courage to pursue art seriously. I am challenging the thought that I have nothing worthy to say. A lot of what I want to do revolves around the role of motherhood and the relationship I have with my children. Why do we so undervalue this so much?

The painting below is a painting that I have been 'playing' with for about 5 years maybe more. It is based on a photo that was taken of me and Chicky Babe at a friend's wedding many, many years ago (I was chief bridesmaid and designer/seamstress, for the bride and 4 bridesmaids and a flower girl -Chicky- and I was the florist too! All made in five weeks while working at my 'real' job full time too.). This painting is one that challenges me. I so want to get it right because I love the way I was captured whispering lovingly into her ear and yet she hardly seems to be paying attention with her eyes turned looking beyond to her future, as she should! I'm happy with parts of the work but every now and then I pull it out and fix the colour here or a line there and look at it a while and then shove it away behind a shelf, damage it a bit in the process, until the next opportunity comes that happens to coincide with my desire to work on it!

Reading the book raises many questions about how society perceives motherhood, how women perceive it and perpetuate myths around mothering and indeed how I perceive it myself. I know I value it highly and I an grateful for the way my children have grown, and I like to think that I can take credit for a portion of that but also recognize that I have been dealt good cards in that department, neither of my children have any serious health or behavioral issues that I have had to contend with. Yet I am dissatisfied that I am just a single mum and school teacher when I could be doing something REALLY important!

I've been thinking that as a single mother I have made some choices that have meant that I have taken the safe road as a primary school teacher rather than actively pursuing an artistic career. It means I can pay (although sometimes at a stretch, especially when I worked part time to fit in time for art and mothering!) the mortgage, drama and music lessons etc. I don't really regret these decisions yet a part of me is always wondering 'what if???' Being on my own has made it tricky at times to fit in time to be creative but it also allowed me to 'selfishly' follow my dream and go to art school for a very very brief nostalgically wonderful year. Then the pull to be sensible and dependable took over and I returned to work being a far more acceptable reason for abandoning my children to daycare than pursuing my desire to learn something as flippant as an art course!

When I met my husband I was 'arty and creative', I designed and made a lot of my own clothes and although I was studying teaching I majored in art. This was not something he valued (although on reflection I think it was something he was jealous of) and over time as the relationship deteriorated this became obvious in the way he spoke to me and I was more and more trapped in my depression and self loathing. Many people say that they feel having children hinders their creative self and to a large degree that is true and I can relate to the ways in which choices have to be made but in a way for me having the children reawakened the desire to express myself creatively.

When bantam boy was born I had just lost my artist, father and really began to question where I was, what I was doing and who I was. By the time Chicky came along I was really wondering if the I who is me would survive and I had a very dark internal struggle that eventuated in my leaving the marriage knowing that if I did not the real me would surely die inside. Hence the sojourn at art school. From then onwards it has been a juggling act making sure I find and allow myself the time to be creative because I know when I don't it is so destructive to my soul!

I'm looking forward to the rest of this thought provoking book.


Melanie Gray Augustin said...

That is a wonderful, thought provoking post. I can't give advice as I'm yet to enter into motherhood, but much of what you have said has been on my mind as we begin to plan our family. I can only imagine the struggle you have felt between wanting to be true to yourself and your art, and to support a family on your own. Hopefully, now that the children get older and more self-reliant, there will be time for you to fully rediscover your creative passions and explore them in a way that makes you happy.

fifi said...

the struggle conyinues always, and forver you feel a desperate need to justify what you do.
One day i will blog about it but at the present time it is all a bit raw and I get emotional.

It is almost impossible to support yourself as an artist. let alone a female one. I couldn't tell you the rejections I have received. And I am not sure that I wouldn't have fretted over living in poverty but being able to paint had I not decided on this version of domestic life, which, incidentally, is on its way to hell in a handbasket quick sticks.



btw, you are doing the most important job in the world if you ask me, and I have done it myself. very worthy. very very.

fifi said...

oh please may i improve my typing. soz about the typos.

Kirti said...

Oh yes yes Ms Hen..all that. You ARE amazing, your life has been/is a work of art and your gorgeous kids are the reflection of all your skill and love and effort. Hard not to compare ourselves and think should ha', could ha', would ha'......Bloody good book. Rach just put up a blog as a forum for discussion