The Creative Life: (M)others

24 Feb

2000irises: (m)others — art and poetry exhibit

In the interest of crass self-promotion, I’d like to discuss my current project. It’s a unique art exhibit at the South Shore Arts Center in Crown Point, IN titled (M)others. The reception is tomorrow night (Friday, Feb. 25th) from 6 – 9 pm, and it features artwork by Melissa Washburn and Patti Tobin Davis, as well as poetry by moi. (I’ll be doing a reading circa 7pm.)

First, this show is unique because art exhibits and poetry don’t often intersect. There is great sympathy among artists and writers, but our products are very different. Writing and art have always inspired one another, but the work itself does not often appear side by side in art galleries. I was straight-up surprised when Melissa asked me if I wanted to participate in this exhibit by contributing poetry (terribly flattered as well, as you can imagine.)

This exhibit also uniquely focuses specifically on the experiences of artists as mothers, and of mothers as artists. Many women find that once they take on the challenge of raising children, their creative work changes permanently.

Naturally, time to create all but disappears, and then when there is time, there is the problem of “mommy brain.” (Digression warning: Mommy brain may improve my ability to multi-task, but there is a reason for the conventional wisdom about mommy brain. Ask any momma on the planet. Yes, I can efficiently remember schedules and household maintenance, but creative thought requires Herculean effort. And if mommy brain were an anti-depressant, then post-partum depression wouldn’t really be a problem, now would it?) Anyway, my point is that by the time my daughter goes to bed at night, my brain is absolutely Jell-O, and switching from mommy mode to writer mode is like throwing a speeding car abruptly into reverse.

Motherhood is one of the most universal experiences, and yet it can be terrifically lonely and shrouded in mystery. None of the What to Expect… books can prepare you for the actual experience of having and raising a child, and while parenting itself is hardly original, the details are. Everyone knows a mother, and yet no one really knows what child-rearing is like until they do it.

This paradox offers all the more reason for women to resolutely find ways of combining the challenges and joys of parenthood with creative work. There is an obvious metaphorical connection between creating life and creating art (although one hurts more,) and the passions of parenting provide plenty of inspiration for art. By making time and space for creativity, and by finding ways of connecting with other mothers through sharing work, artists and writers find community, and mothers in general feel that their emotions and experiences are validated in a way they rarely are in popular culture. The loneliness abates. That’s what we’re trying to do with this exhibit: give space and recognition to the creative efforts of mothers, while examining how motherhood has influenced our work.

In addition to displaying our work, on March 6th at 2pm we’re also screening an independent film titled Who Does She Think She Is. The film’s website introduces its central concerns: “In a half-changed world, women often think they need to choose: mothering or working? Your children’s well-being, or your own? [This] documentary by Academy Award winning filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll, features five fierce women who refuse to choose. Through their lives, we explore some of the most problematic intersections of our time: mothering and creativity, partnering and independence, economics and art.”

Let me finish by saying that while passionate about exploring motherhood, I am leery of enshrining mothers. Just the other week I heard an otherwise intelligent man describing his mother as “pure and angelic.” Gag. (You do know how you got here, right? Nothing pure about it.) The myth of the “angelic mommy” is just one more way that women feel pressured to be perfect. (Let the Mommy Wars ensue.) I don’t want my daughter to have any illusion about my perfection – fiercely devoted, loving, involved, and silly, definitely – but for heaven’s sake, not perfect. I want her to think of me as a woman who took care of herself as well as her family, so she can do the same when (and if) her momma time comes. I want to be a woman who makes room for creative work amid the chaos of daily life. Perhaps continuing honest conversation about the reality and variety of mothers’ lives will help dispel the myth of the “angelic” mommy, freeing mothers to be real people, and at last give value to the experiences of all people who answer those incessant calls for “Mommy.”

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3 Responses to “The Creative Life: (M)others”

  1. Melissa February 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    “That’s what we’re trying to do with this exhibit: give space and recognition to the creative efforts of mothers, while examining how motherhood has influenced our work.”

    I so should have let you (made you?) write the press materials for this show. I totally agree with everything above, and am truly grateful for the wide range of mothers, artists, and artistic mommas I have the pleasure of knowing!

  2. Darlene February 25, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    *Blush* You did a great job with the press materials, of course. And I agree too — mommas rock! I’m lucky to know some of the coolest mothers ever.

  3. Djinnjer March 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm #

    What a fantastic description of something that proved to be a truly unique exhibit. Thanks for the heads up about it!

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