Editorial: The Shift

Artists- to have kids, or not to have kids? It’s a question I’m sure we all ask ourselves (or definitely should before taking on such an endeavor...)

My daughter, Stevie, the reason for this editorial.

I have friends/acquaintances/theories of the artist type that intentionally choose life partners (or single life) who don’t want children, largely in part because they want the autonomy to be an artist, whatever that takes--travel, money, time, headspace, etc. Guess what- they will succeed. It’s a numbers game, and of course if they are toiling around the clock working towards getting shows and making work, they will achieve some level of success.

I have a new respect for the many artists I know that have children. Granted, I’ve been a parent for a whopping two months (it was weeks when I began writing this…) so far, but dang, am I exhausted. Not just from round-the-clock feedings and recovering from a C-section, but from this incredible weight of responsibility of keeping another human alive. Note: I always cautiously accepted when people would offer well-meaning “say goodbye to sleep!” anecdotes about parenthood, assuming that they just weren’t as efficient as I would be, didn’t have as helpful of a spouse as I have, etc. I was being an imperious little $%&*. It’s not that my baby isn’t amazing and doesn’t sleep for large blocks of time at night- it’s that she is so tiny, helpless—and without divulging too much, has some health issues that have made things *extra* difficult—so even if I’m clocking 7-hours of sleep at night (which my friends have told me is a rare blessing), I’m functioning as a restless, worried, forgetting-if-I-ate-dinner-or-not bag of milk. Or, that’s how it feels. Where was I? Oh, yes, art.

Titian: Clarrisa Strozzi, 1542 (or, random portrait of a child so you have something to look at.)

In the wee hours of the morning with my beloved remora eel suckling away, I am hopeful about the return of my studio life. No one tells you this (or maybe I lucked out with a generally contented baby), but in the midst of three-hour blocks of sleep, while you are sitting quietly for 40 minutes at a time, you have time to think. You become aware of the world again, and your inner life from which so much of art originates.

Just coming off of a three-year MFA program, I had time to make. But, due to the way that critiques often fell, teaching responsibilities, a life outside of school (I had already lived in the area for ten years, so I didn’t have the luxury of being “displaced” somewhere new and couldn’t hermit myself away in the studio), etc. I had no time to digest what I was doing. I mean, yes, I had some time, but not like this new extended, I’ve-been-thinking-about-this-one-painting-I-have-yet-to-make-for-a-month-now kind of space to really mull things over. To research. To let things gestate. To imagine. Maybe this new routine, this new kind of free time (ha), will break bad habits for me. Instead of vomiting up whatever harebrained scheme pops into my head, maybe I will work more intentionally. Of course, I will struggle to find time for any studio practice at all, but I’m still hopeful. Perhaps the urgency of the next feeding time, or the doctor’s appointment, or the quality time I need to have with my daughter will create new and real deadlines that will in many ways condense my focus into the work. Or maybe I’ll just end up covered in baby vomit.

I asked two of my artist friends who have kids (2 each, in fact) to look this over and give me their thoughts. One, who has two daughters, said that he was always jealous of his fellow grads that didn’t have kids, that they had so much free time and headspace. With kids, his priorities shifted, Art holds the place of 4 or 5, rather than 1 or 2. I suppose as long as it’s in the Top 10, things will be okay for me. I guess the shift (one I never thought I would so absolutely agree with) is best summed up when he says “the world can live with less, or without, my art for awhile- hell, forever.”

Photocredit: Stephanie Collins

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