Blogs Field Guide The Family Business

Big Ideas, Short Films: Sneak Peek at March’s Free First Saturday

By Rachel Kimpton. Want to shed the winter blues with a little cinematic magic? Come to the Walker Art Center this Saturday, March 2, for Free First Saturday Kids Film Festival. The lineup is filled with movies about food, acceptance and love. Prepare to be dazzled by live-action, animation, and 3D films. To pique your […]

By Rachel Kimpton.

Want to shed the winter blues with a little cinematic magic? Come to the Walker Art Center this Saturday, March 2, for Free First Saturday Kids Film Festival. The lineup is filled with movies about food, acceptance and love. Prepare to be dazzled by live-action, animation, and 3D films.

To pique your interest, here’s a sneak peak of the films being screened this Saturday.

 

Big Ideas, Short Stories

Below are a few of the short animated films being screened at 11 am and 1 pm in the Walker Cinema.

Ormie (Canada, 2010), a film by Rob Silvestri, is about a curious pig dedicated to obtaining his obsession: sweet, warm cookies. Will he ever get what he wants?

Yvette Edery’s film Jillian Dillon (USA, 2009) is the story of a hippoplatypus—half hippo, half platypus—who transforms her differences into helpful powers that save the day.

In Nate Winckler’s film Twirl (USA, 2012), a speaker dances along to the music it plays and ignites friendships with others.

Ben Hora (France, 2010) captures the hardships faced by an immigrant family upon their arrival in a new country. Film by Nicolas Bianco-Levin and Julie Rembauville.

Pishto leaves everything behind one autumn day and makes a new friend during his journey in Sonya Kendel’s film Pishto Goes Away (Russia, 2012).

Kiss – A Love Story (Norway, 2011) is a film by Joseph Hodgson and Franck Aubry that explores the relationship of the sun and the moon during a solar eclipse.

A scientist receives an unexpected visitor while conducting experiments in Pasturized (Argentina, 2012). Directed by Nicolas Villarreal.

 

3D Adventures

The following 3D films will be screened at 3 pm in the Walker Cinema. 3D glasses will be provided.

Paul Emile-Boucher’s film Tuurngait (France, 2011) tells the story of a boy led by a magical snow goose into the ice forests where the dangers are too much for any boy to handle alone.

 

When a boy gets his heart broken, he uses a magic spell to create an emotional shield. The Boy in the Bubble (Ireland, 2011) is a lesson about letting your emotions get to your head—and your heart! The film is directed by Kealan O’Rourke, and narrated by Alan Rickman.

 

When Anna’s father leaves to work abroad, it seems to be the worst time of her life. Things take a turn for the better when she and her cousin discover the powers of a magic piano. Check out their adventures in Martin Clapp’s The Magic Piano (UK, 2011).

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The short story films will be shown one after the other at 11 am and 1 pm, and the 3D films will play at 3 pm. Don’t miss out on this great selection of short films from around the world!

A Year in Review: Highlights of 2012

By Rachel Kimpton. From the doors of the Walker Art Center to happenings around the city, state, country, and world at large, 2012 was indeed a whirlwind of a year. After putting our heads together, we present to you this compilation of outstanding family programs to shine as a beacon of inspiration for the year […]

By Rachel Kimpton.

From the doors of the Walker Art Center to happenings around the city, state, country, and world at large, 2012 was indeed a whirlwind of a year. After putting our heads together, we present to you this compilation of outstanding family programs to shine as a beacon of inspiration for the year to come.

Arty Pants

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Last winter, visitors created “cool” paintings and sculptures using colored ice as a medium, and designed their very own arctic creatures. Young guests transformed the windows overlooking Hennepin Avenue in the General Mills Hennepin Lounge with giant, colorful window clings. January featured the film Lost and Found, a heart-warming story based on the book by Oliver Jeffers. Spring activities largely incorporated the Lifelike exhibition and similar themes. Visitors toyed with scale by creating tiny models of their favorite places, preparing a paper feast large enough for giants, and manipulating the size of different body parts using a photo booth.

Steve Sanders of Snapdragon Seeds Music joined us in May and June. He improvised songs based on visitor observations of the Walker Art Center galleries and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Songs included a story about a cyclops (based on our old Murakami wallpaper), the journey of a young man from New York to Minnesota, and why John Waters is silly. You can enjoy a large batch of Steve’s Arty Pants songs on his website. Summer hosted two very fun hands-on projects. Kids created their own clay versions of freshwater creatures and collaborated to make paper garden with all the necessary inhabitants (including a garden gnome). During November and December, local dancer Timmy Wagner led several workshops teaching Merce Cunningham’s ideas behind artful movement and choreography.

Expect the unexpected.

One of our favorite things about Arty Pants is when visitors get excited and projects take unexpected turns.

Free First Saturday

February was all about snow. We planned to trick out sleds and take them for a spin down the hill,  but Minnesota threw us a curveball last winter. No snow? No problem! “Snow(less) Saturday” was a day of making cardboard snowmen with artists Andy Ducett and Scott Stulen, learning about bees with Terry McDaniel of the Minnesota Hobby Beekeepers Association,  and crafting valentines for residents at Twin Cities nursing homes with local artist Amanda Lovelee. Families had a chance to experience the imaginative process of film within the walls of the Walker Art Center in March. This day was very exciting, as the Walker hosted the regional premier of the award-winning animated Japanese film Oblivion Island.

April was a day of exploring memories, ancient traditions, and feelings of youth. Minnesotan playwright and performer Kevin Kling and author/illustrator Chris Monroe paid us a visit to narrate their collaborative work, Big Little Brother, a children’s book about sibling rivalry turned brotherly love. Families had the opportunity to enjoy Oscar-winning short film The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and to create wool felt alongside artists from the Textile Center.

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Battle master Scott Stulen and workshop boys Karl Unnasch and Andy Ducett.

In August, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden was transformed into a giant LARPing (live action roleplaying) arena. The responsibility of freeing both the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden from a dangerous curse was placed in the hands of ordinary citizens. Participants encountered shopkeepers, trolls, shaman, fortunetellers, sirens, merchants, and others while completing various quests in order to lift the curse. September celebrated the power of reading,  storytelling, and community. Local author and illustrator Nancy Carlson led the activity Get Up & Read, allowing characters from her books to encourage guests to be active and move their bodies as they made their way through the Garden.

As the year began to wind down, November wound things back up again by coaxing out one’s inner inventor through experimental expression. Artist Margaret Pezalla Granlund transformed the Art Lab into a luminous forest where guests investigated the tricks of light, mirrors, and reflection. Electronic music pioneer Laurie Anderson held an afternoon workshop showcasing her invented instruments, projects, and music.

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Laurie Anderson manipulating the voice of a participant.

Family Exhibition of the Year: Lifelike

Without a doubt, the Lifelike exhibition wins family favorite – hands down. Lifelike was on view for most of spring, opening in late February and ending in late May (you can read more about the exhibition here and here). This exhibition showcased how artists replicate everyday objects, challenging visitors to think about the art of design, and to recognize that “ordinary” does not necessarily imply “simple.” For children, this was a great introduction to exploring art outside of textbook examples, and to get a sense for what artists are doing and have done. The irony of altered scales or mediums, such as an oversized milk carton or a sleeping bag cast in bronze, was enjoyed by all and served as the perfect spark for dialogue

The gallery activities were very successful with this exhibition. Over 1000 scavenger hunt sheets made it into hands of visitors at family programs! Art Think, one of our gallery activities, asks children to describe their thoughts on a specific work of art that caught their attention. During Lifelike, kids tended to gravitate towards pieces from this exhibition and had a lot of interesting things to say.

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As the Walker Art Center is always changing and evolving, we hope that 2012 will serve as an excellent role model for the upcoming programs in 2013.

The Family Business: “Running Away from Home” by Kathryn Kysar

Clare's Well - a retreat center operated by Franciscan sisters in Little Falls, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Clare's Well.

Kathryn Kysar. Photo courtesy of the author

Editor’s note: For this installment of our series on the marriage of art and daily life, poet Kathryn Kysar writes eloquently about the 21st century juggle of creative work and motherhood. Specifically, she talks about running away from home, the need for peeling away the responsibilities of domesticity, layer by layer, to reveal the artist within.

A recalcitrant, cupboard-slamming teenager sulks in my kitchen, blasting hard rock into his ear buds while eating his third snack of the afternoon, tortilla chip crumbs flying around the table. His exuberant younger sister shares her every action—“and now I am folding the paper crane’s neck!”– from the coffee-table-turned-art-studio as I sit at the dining room table, trying to write.

Before I had children, I lived in a large third-floor apartment overlooking the trees and lights on Hennepin Avenue. When I needed to work on a project, I simply changed the message on the answering machine and gave up cooking and cleaning for a week. But now, in my charming St. Paul bungalow, something is always in disrepair, in need of my attention — the garden, the laundry, the mismatched Tupperware, the outgrown winter clothes, as well as the two kids.

I have always been a creative writing sprinter, a poetry manuscript-binger. Some people can slowly and steadily put in a few hours a day, but I work best with a deadline and a few empty days alone with my laptop. My brain cannot easily follow a complex creative thread with multiple interruptions. I need to be able to let my mind amble, freed from worry about what to make for dinner in 45 minutes or that email I should send to my child’s teacher sometime today.  I write best when I can be still, thoroughly immersed in my thoughts. This doesn’t easily happen at home.

I tried renting an office, a room of my own. I shared the space with a wonderful woman, but the office was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and spooky at night. The packing up, parking, and unpacking consumed so much of my precious writing time. When I was finally seated at the writing studio’s desk, my teaching and household to-do lists persistently nattered away in my mind, hard to silence.

When my children were little, I feared I would never write again. I asked successful women writers how they wrote when their children were small; often the answer was “I don’t remember,” or, worse yet, “After my partner went to work, the kids got on the school bus, and the day stretched before me…” It was a local poet/novelist/professor who said the magic words: “Run away from home.” She told me she would get a hotel room a few miles away from her house, or go to a local bed and breakfast for 48 hours and write in binges. She said this was how she completed several novels.

Clare’s Well – a retreat center operated by Franciscan sisters in Little Falls, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Clare’s Well.

I received a month-long residency at the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Red Wing, which meant working out an elaborate child care schedule. I went home about every five days, but when I was at the Anderson Center, I lived by myself in a glorious room with two walls of sunny windows overlooking the road and surrounding lawns.  A chef cooked dinner for the residents every night, and if we wanted something from the grocery store, we could just tell her, and she would pick it up for us. It took the first week to silence my mental nattering; I thought deeply about my life the second week. And then, by weeks three and four, I found could write, really write, easily and with focus and skill. It was as if my domestic life had to be peeled from me to reveal the writer.

Most of my female visual artist friends chose not to have children; they said it would be impossible to make art and care for kids. But women writers seem to fool themselves into thinking they can easily create both art and people. Perhaps that’s because we think we do not need studios to do our work. Before we have children, it is easy to entertain the fantasy that we will simply write at home, industrious while our future children take long daily naps. There is a picture of me at my baby shower, pretending to type on computer while wearing a wraparound pillow, demonstrating how I could write and nurse at the same time.  That baby cried every night from 5 to 11 p.m., and I never slept more than two hours at a time for seven months. My brain was slow and foggy throughout her infancy. Creating good writing was just not possible.

One smart woman writer friend wrote very slowly for many years after she became a parent, patiently spending a decade to write a novel. But then, once her children were grown, she spent her summers in rented offices where she would binge-write 12 hours a day, while her husband graciously handled the cooking and household chores. Finally, now that long-deserved success has found her, she has built a shed in her back yard, desk and day bed side-by-side, a nod to the need to let her mind rest and wander, as well as work. Now, she can run away from home by crossing her yard.

I have, at last, found a wonderful place where I can be alone, letting my mind to wind around poems rather than grocery lists.  It is a “spirituality farm” run by some very hip Franciscan sisters at an affordable retreat center an hour outside of the Twin Cities. The sisters provide meals and occasional conversation, and I stay in a small cabin where I can read, drink tea, spread my poems on the floor, and write. Relieved of caring for others or preparing my meals, I am able to focus totally on my writing. When lacking inspiration, I am free to wander the forest and meadow on the grounds.

On the morning after I returned home from my most recent writing retreat: I washed the dishes, served breakfast, washed the dishes again, drove the kids to the fencing club, attended a coach/parent meeting, drove home, cooked lunch, washed the dishes, put in a load of laundry, and then it was 2 p.m. — half the day already over, and I was still wearing the clothes I had slept in. Had I written a poem, drafted an essay, or sent something off for publication? Those tasks would just need to wait until the next time I could run away from home.
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About the author: Kathryn Kysar is the author of two books of poetry, Pretend the World and Dark Lake, and the editor of Riding Shotgun: Women Write About Their Mothers. She teaches creative writing, composition, and literature at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and lives with her family in St. Paul.

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About THE FAMILY BUSINESS column: In partnership with the Walker Art Center’s Education and Community Programs department, mnartists.org publishes an almost-monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own voices, and on the day-by-day juggle of art-making with the rest of their responsibilities: kids & family, day-jobs and other everyday obligations. From grocery shopping to daycare, caring for older relatives to community activism, we aim to offer snapshots of what a life in the arts really looks like, as seen through the eyes of the creative people living it every day.

The Family Business: “Plan B” by Alison McGhee

For this month’s “Family Business” column, acclaimed writer Alison McGhee reflects on what it means to build a life in art. She’s not talking about pat advice — no easy bromides extolling the virtues of daily practice or tips about “process.” Rather, her subject is about that unmistakable combination of fear and exhilaration that comes […]

For this month’s “Family Business” column, acclaimed writer Alison McGhee reflects on what it means to build a life in art. She’s not talking about pat advice — no easy bromides extolling the virtues of daily practice or tips about “process.” Rather, her subject is about that unmistakable combination of fear and exhilaration that comes from working without a net: what it is to pursue one’s chosen path without reservation or contingency plan, when there is no Plan B to fall back on if it doesn’t work out.

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Alison McGhee, photo courtesy of the author

An acquaintance asks you if you have any words of of wisdom to contribute for a talk she’s giving on the topic of “Building a Writing Life.”

You start to tap out a bunch of little bromides along the lines of a) make a practice of writing regularly, b) look at writing as a process rather than a series of finished projects, c) develop a good critical eye for your own work.

How dull. If you were an aspiring writer you would be, at best, unmoved and, at most, insulted by the boringness of these words of wisdom. You hit ‘delete’ and abandon ship and go for a long walk with your dog. But the frustration with your own words remains. Annie Dillard, in an essay that you’ve memorized because you love it so much (except for that one paragraph you hate and choose to ignore), says, “What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?” You are enraging yourself — not too strong a word — by the triviality of your advice. This seems ridiculous; it’s only a simple talk to aspiring writers on building a writing life, for God’s sake.

But the anger remains.

Now, you’re thinking about a workshop you taught last fall, in which the writers were talking about this very thing: How to become a writer; how to make a life as an artist, whatever that art form — painting, writing, music, acting — might be; the difficulty of making a living, even a small living, as an artist. You listened to them talking. Everything they said was true. There was nothing to disagree with. The conversation shifted to Plan B, the backup plan for when things don’t go the way you want them to.

“Screw Plan B!” one of them said. “It seems to me that if you have a Plan B you’re going to end up following Plan B and be guaranteed failure. Why not go for Plan A and at least know you tried?”

You looked at this writer. He is a person of strong opinions and enormous talent, and behind that talent is a ferocious determination. He was laughing, as he often is, but you knew he was dead serious.

“I never had a Plan B,” you heard yourself say, and you realized only then that it was true. This was a weird thing for you to say, because you don’t much like to talk in class, or anywhere for that matter, about your own writing. But you felt as if little puzzle pieces were all falling into place. Was it possible that you hadn’t realized until that moment that you were a Plan A-only type of person?

Yes. It was possible. You knew that from early on you wanted only to write a book, a beautiful book, but the fact that this was and remains your only goal felt like new information.

In that same moment, sitting there in class listening to your students, you realized that life is easier if you only have a Plan A. It makes prioritizing easy. Whatever you want to be, to do — whether it’s write a beautiful book or paint an astonishing painting — means that the book or the painting will always be the highest priority.

First comes the Plan A, then comes everything else. Whatever job you take to support the plan will be secondary to the plan. If you have children, you’ll figure out how to keep writing when you have them. Maybe you’ll get up at 4, maybe you’ll stay up until 4; somehow you’ll figure it out.

Even if you’re not a good writer — and you yourself weren’t — that won’t stop you. You’ll keep at it until you slowly get better. Because what other choice do you have? There’s nothing to fall back on, if you have no Plan B.

“Easy for you to say,” someone once said to you, after you told her you were pretty sure you would be writing even if you never published anything, “because you have published things.”

That kind of remark makes you go instantly quiet. It seems so rude to respond to it, to repeat that no, you’re pretty sure you’d be writing anyway. And the further truth, which is that you never think about the things you’ve published, also seems rude. But it’s the truth. Anything published is behind you, and you only look ahead.

All you want is to write that beautiful book, and it’s still out there. You haven’t done it yet. That book is waiting for you. This — the fact that you have not yet accomplished your goal — also makes life easier. You don’t have to look around and think, now what? You don’t have to try to come up with a new plan, because the first plan is still operational. It’s a dream that’s still being realized.

It’s a dream that might never be realized. This, too, is something that hadn’t occurred to you. You’ve been like a shark, always swimming forward. All this time you thought there was an end goal, didn’t you? That beautiful book — out there, shimmering in the distance, waiting for you to write it. But what if the beautiful book is a mirage?

It comes to you now, finally, that the beautiful book is a mirage.

That this doesn’t bother you must mean something, but you’ll have to think on it for a while.

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About the author: Alison McGhee writes for all ages in all forms, from poetry to novels to picture books. Among many books, she wrote the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Shadow Baby, a novel, and the #1 New York Times-bestseller Someday. She’s currently working on two novels simultaneously, one for children and one for adults.

This essay originally appeared on the author’s blog and is republished here with permission.

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About THE FAMILY BUSINESS column: In partnership with the Walker Art Center’s Education and Community Programs department, mnartists.org is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own voices, and on the day-by-day juggle of art-making with the rest of their responsibilities: kids & family, day-jobs and other everyday obligations. From grocery shopping to daycare, caring for older relatives to community activism, we aim to offer snapshots of what a life in the arts really looks like, as seen through the eyes of the creative people living it every day.

The Family Business: Our Conversation on Motherhood and Being an Artist Concludes

What follows is the third and final installment in our featured “Family Business” column this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a number of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about the tensions of balancing parenthood with a […]

What follows is the third and final installment in our featured “Family Business” column this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a number of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about the tensions of balancing parenthood with a demanding career, freedom (or lack thereof), and the potent lure of a good night’s sleep.

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Paula McCartney, from "A Field Guide to Snow and Ice" series

Paula McCartneyAt 37, I was very used to my adult life and the freedom I had when my son was born, so there’s a lot I miss, actually — but NOTHING enough to trade back!  I am certain that Oliver is the most amazing thing that has happened or ever will happen to me.  I mentioned the loss of our social lives earlier; I guess the thing that I miss the most is the ability to go out in the evenings.  My husband Lex and I always used to go to openings and lectures, and I thought of that as my continuing education, as well as a way to stay connected in the community.  Without family in town, honestly, we can very rarely afford a sitter, so we hardly ever go out at night. And that feels isolating at times.  Going out to dinner together for a date and paying for a sitter is basically out of the question.  I am lucky that Oliver goes to — and loves — preschool several days a week, so I do have studio time. I didn’t have that for his first year and didn’t make much work; and I realize that I make as much work now, on average, as I did before he was born.

I love my son more than anything, but my work is still very important to me.  I will admit I do still worry about my career, but I am able NOT to worry about it when I am spending time with him and can be really present. I worry while driving to work or at night, when I should be sleeping!

 

Greta Pratt, from the "Trail Maids" series

Greta PrattMy kids are now 17 and 19, so it is hard to remember my life without them and what I gave up when I became a mother. But in thinking about it, what I would like to have back is time with my partner, where the conversation is not related to the kids. I also miss the freedom to pursue an artistic idea, without having to think about what a houseful of teenagers is doing back at home. It is tough to find balance and, as Paula pointed out before, it is impossible to be the best at everything all the time. There are just not enough hours in the day.

When I was first getting started, a male museum curator counseled me not to have kids. He said I would never be successful if I had them. I was incensed at the time. But if you define “success” as a race to the top, he was right. Nurturing children, making a living, and being an artist comprises three full-time jobs — and that is impossible to pull off.

However, life is richer when we look at it from many angles. If we want a world comprised of diversity of thought and ideas, maybe we need to understand that the old path to success does not work for all types of people. We need to seek out and value the contributions of a variety of individuals.

 

Amy Stein, from the "Domesticated" series

Amy SteinWell, as mother of a baby, for me, sleep would be high up there on a list of things I sorely miss. Also, the freedom to plan my own day and unstructured time are already distant memories. Now, every moment and activity’s value is weighed against spending time with Sam, or the cost of hiring a sitter. So, a lot of things I used love to do, I just can’t make time for: going to openings, attending talks, walking in the park, showering.

Sometimes I feel like every moment of my day is consumed by mothering duties, and to break free for even a minute, I need to negotiate with someone to take over and spell me. (Having said that, I have an attentive and loving part-time sitter, and my husband is amazing, and shares many duties, especially in the evenings.)

Carrie — thanks so much for initiating this conversation and pushing it forward. I’ve come to really look forward to reading everyone’s responses, especially because the other moms are more experienced and have a broader perspective to share. Sometimes I lose sight of the fact that Sam will leave babyhood behind, that he won’t always be seven months old, with the intense needs of an infant. He will, of course, grow and go through many stages of development, increasingly becoming more independent, needing new and different things from me.

 

Linda Rossi, "Galactic," silver gelatin print. In the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Linda RossiAmy mentioned the need for sleep; I have to say, that has been an enormous issue for me over the years, as my boys were not good sleepers in the early years, and then I waited up all night once they were teenagers.

One evening I remember in particular: my oldest son, Skye, who was two at the time, would never stay in his bed, and around midnight one night, my husband and I pretended to be asleep (while waiting for him to go to bed — he, apparently, was in charge).  I remember him coming into our room and standing next to me. I could sense his closed fist holding a toy right above my face. He wanted me to read what it said on the bottom of the toy car. With great delight he said, “Oh, they are sleeping and they are dreaming about me!” I was so sleep deprived, that the fact that he assumed when I did get a wink, I would be dreaming about him was both funny and excruciating.

If I could change one thing about those years, it really would be to get more sleep. I would encourage younger mothers to get as much rest as possible. I would often use the late evening hours to “make art,” and as a result, it has actually compromised my health. I now try to get more sleep, and dream about new work when I go to bed, as the often random connections in a dream state lead to new ideas.

 

Carrie Thompson, from the "Goma" series

Carrie ThompsonLike Beth, I was thinking a lot about freedom when I wrote the question, “Since becoming a mother what is the one thing you gave up that you wish you had back?”

For me: I would love to have the freedom to really plunge into a project without guilt. I dream of taking off and exploring the world slowly and completely. I think this is a dream for many artists, not just women. I think there are probably a lot of women – and mothers – who share the escape fantasies of Lester B. Morrison. One of Beth’s observations has stuck with me — it almost perfectly sums up my own conflicts: “I often feel like I should apologize to my kids for having a career, and to my career for having a life.”

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This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. If you missed them, you can read the first two installments in this conversation about art, work and motherhood here.

What’s your story? Please join in and share your own experiences in the comments below.

The Family Business: Our Conversation on Being Both an Artist and a Mother Continues

What follows is the second part of our featured “Family Business” piece this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about strategies for work/life balance and how their family lives […]

What follows is the second part of our featured “Family Business” piece this month, an email exchange, moderated by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers, all of whom are also mothers with children ranging in age from babyhood to adolescence. They talk about strategies for work/life balance and how their family lives alternately fuel and drain their creative drive, and share what from their old lives, out of all the things they’ve left by the wayside in the juggle of motherhood and career, they’d like to have back if they could.

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Linda Rossi: This is a wonderful opportunity to write about our adventures, as mothers and artists. I so appreciate these reflections. I have three sons who, unfortunately, due to crazy circumstances, I raised by myself from a young age. My first son was born the day after my grad school exhibition. As I still had to finish the written part of my thesis, I was nursing him and writing at the same time. I found the experience completely changed my interpretation of time and space — there was a blending and compression. I needed to accept quickly the chaos and the unexpected.

Linda Rossi and her boys. Photo courtesy of the artist.

As the years went on, all three of my children helped me make works of art. Their skills and aesthetic knowledge grew, and I was able to trust them (at a young age) for new insight into the work I was making. It has continued to be a provocative and powerful exchange. During those years, balancing it all came down to a matter of finding bits of time that I could create work. So, a lot of the time, I was just dreaming about pieces — not actually making them; I would actually try to schedule time to make art in my head. For example, while washing the dishes, I would focus intensely on the work I wanted to do in the future.

At the same time, in our house there were always domestic and artistic tools side by side on the kitchen counter: the loaf of bread and peanut butter were spread out with saws, wood, etc. Probably not the most sanitary situation, but it was a way not to separate our lives. I look back now, on years that were filled with pain, beauty, terror, humor, profound baby- and teenage boy-smells, and yelling, and fear, and laughing. And it still continues.

The intensity of our home fueled the work I created. During one time period, I created an elaborate installation about Russian poets whose voices were suppressed by Stalin. I became interested in the power of art during a time of danger; the strongest work, I found, was less political, and addressed freedom and beauty. Often the wives of the poets would memorize their husbands’ words, keep them in their minds for decades until the work was safe to reveal. I suppose I was feeling my own small entrapment at the time; as a result, I wandered into a professional area of study based on a mix of home-based emotion. It was the double edged sword: there were days I didn’t think I would survive, and yet with all that was going on, it was such a complex and rich environment to be within. I am profoundly grateful for what my sons continue to teach me, even if the lessons can amount to a tough reflection on myself.

Linda Rossi, "Camouflage," 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Carrie Thompson: Like Linda, I am raising my son (Goma) in a non-traditional home. I won’t get into details, but the word I’d use to describe our lives is “complicated.”  And like Amy, I struggle with the amount of time Goma spends in daycare. I am Alec Soth’s studio manager; my job is full-time and demanding. Since I work for an artist, most nights, after Goma falls asleep, the idea of working on my own art makes my head spin.  My issue is that I, like many of you, need time to create, think, and explore. I can’t just turn my ideas on and off.

I am 31; Goma is 15 months old. Before Goma was born, I got my job with Alec, won a few grants, made two bodies of work that I am proud of, had many shows, traveled, and applied for every grant and show for which I was eligible. Now, since I have a child, I do less than half of these things.  This is why I think younger artists without children rise to the top more quickly. Artists with children continue to create, but maybe not as much or as fast as they did before parenthood. As many of you have mentioned, the idea of success shifts when you become a mother. I would love to hear any other thoughts you might have on the discussion to this point, and I would like to add one more question: Since becoming a mother what is the one thing you gave up that you wish you could have back?

Danielle Mericle:  I, too, work a full-time job, although I’ve managed to get it down to four days a week instead of five (and it does help).  While I don’t pursue many aspects of my work nearly like I used to, my professional life is definitely starting to come back, however slowly.  My sense is that it gets easier all the time.  The difference between 15 months and three years old (which is Charley’s age now) cannot be underestimated.  I’m guessing that three to six will be another huge leap, and so on and so on. That said, the challenges are still very real.  I’m incredibly fortunate, in that I convinced my mother to move to our home in Ithaca to provide childcare for us. (We pay her well, but my guilt is gone.) When I was sending him to daycare it was pretty agonizing…

Anyway, more soon — I will contemplate what I wish I had back. (But I have to admit: It’s finally happening; I’ve reached a point where I really can’t remember my old life much anymore. So, I may have to ponder that question for a while).

Photograph by Danielle Mericle. Courtesy of the artist.

Beth Dow: Our kids were born in London, and I was pregnant shortly after my first solo exhibition. I continued to shoot film, but it was difficult to work in the darkroom, and doing so became basically impossible after our son, Miles, was born. Our daughter, Maisie, was born less than two years later. Then, we moved to the USA not long after that. The film I shot back then amounted to roll after roll of unfinished thoughts, and it was deeply frustrating not to be able to print. To make things harder, I didn’t have my own darkroom, so I had to use my husband’s when he wasn’t in it, which was only nights or weekends. I had wanted to apply for grad school at that time, too, but it became impossible. I was still able to get my work in some group shows, but I didn’t regain any kind of real creative focus for several years.

All that had to do with more than motherhood, though; the international move likely played a big part in that loss of focus. My London gallery completely changed its business model and became a picture library at the same time we moved; so, in addition to all the changes of parenthood, I also no longer had gallery representation. Looking back, I don’t know if I would really change anything even if I could, but I do wish I had had more bodies of work under my belt before I grew a baby there (ha!).

When you asked about the one thing I gave up that I wish I had back, I really had to think about that. Life is all about giving things up and getting things in return. Sometimes, we get things we don’t want, and other times we get things we didn’t know we wanted. I wish I could regain the freedom to completely throw my full attention into one thing at a time, and to do that without any guilt. When I’m doing family stuff, whatever that may be, part of my mind is on my photographs; when I’m working, part of my mind is on who needs to be where, what’s for supper, and what is that goddamned dog barking about now.

I suspect this is a gender thing — whether it’s the divided focus or the guilt about that division. I do know, however, that it really does get easier. After a huge gap in my resume, things picked up for me as the kids went to school and became more autonomous. When the kids were small, I would fantasize about what it must have been like for Ward Cleaver to return home to a clean house and a cooked dinner. There were also a few dangerous occasions I can remember — after long and stressful days spent with toddlers — where a full tank of gas, some loud music, and a bit of cash in my bag were calling out all kinds of temptation to just keep on driving. I bet a lot of mothers with young children have felt like that, and I’m suspicious of those who would deny it.

Here’s my answer: I wish I could regain the facility to compartmentalize my attention easily, and I wish I could do so without feeling any shred of guilt.

Beth Dow, "Snake, Sezincote," a platinum palladium print from the series, 'Fieldwork'. Courtesy of the artist.

Greta Pratt: I have raised two children in a traditional/nontraditional home. We’re traditional, in the sense I am married, but also non-traditional, because my husband and I live in different states, eight hours apart. I have a tenure-track job in Virginia, and he needs to be close to New York City. It is complicated. I always knew I wanted to have children, but I don’t think I gave a whole lot of thought to all the practical issues involved with parenthood. Instead, I proceeded as I do with most things — by just winging it. Sometimes it’s worked out better than others.

When the kids were little, I was home with them, and my work time always involved towing them with me unless I could find a mom willing to trade a few hours of kid-watching. I didn’t have the money to hire a sitter. My husband, who is a freelance editorial photographer, travels non-stop and without much advance warning, so he was not available for any kind of consistent help. I learned to shed things, so I could continue to photograph and take care of my kids. No time for a social life, reading the paper, or books; no watching TV, keeping up with current events, or talking to friends. I did however manage to keep my focus and keep working towards a goal, however slowly. At that time, I was working on what would turn into my second book of photographs, Using History. It took me eight years to finish that project. Part of the reason it took so long was the time it took to figure out and understand what I was trying to say; another part of the reason had to do with the travel involved; and another huge reason for the long production time was figuring out how to fit the work in with the kids.

I did a lot of driving in those days. When Axel was eight and Rose was six, I went back to school and got my MFA; that led to my current full-time job. I do feel like my life went completely out of control from that point on. The demands of graduate school and then a job in academia, along with creating art and raising my kids have been intense. And then I moved to a different state, and my husband stayed behind. What was I thinking? As I stated earlier, sometimes it has worked out better than others.

Greta Pratt, "The Wavers" series (installation view). Courtesy of the artist.###

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This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. If you missed it, read the first installment in this conversation about art, work and motherhood here. The third and final part of this conversation will be posted here later this week.

What’s your story? Please join in and share your own experiences in the comments below.

The Family Business: A conversation about art, work and motherhood

In partnership with mnartists.org, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, […]

In partnership with mnartists.org, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own voices, and on the day-by-day juggle of art-making with the rest of their responsibilities: kids & family, day-jobs and other everyday obligations. From grocery shopping to daycare, caring for older relatives to community activism, we aim to offer snapshots of what a life in the arts really looks like, as seen through the eyes of the creative people living it every day.

Our first installment in this series is an email exchange, led by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers — all mothers with children of varying ages — about the struggles and hard-won insights that come with parenthood, from the unexpected epiphanies and self-discovery to the frustrations of watching one’s productivity take a back seat to the necessity of caring for small kids and the slow process of integrating family with a vibrant career. What follows is the first of three posts; the remaining two will appear next week.

This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. We hope you’ll join in and share your own experiences in the comments below. (Speaking of which, the comments at the base of the original post on LBM make for a really wonderful conversation in their own right and are also well worth a read.)

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Carrie ThompsonWhen I was pregnant, I had a studio visit with Lorna Simpson. She is a mother, so I asked her for advice. Specifically, I wanted to know: What should I be sure to do before having my baby? What might be some of the challenges I face when I become a mother? Her advice to me, since I had recently been working on two projects dealing with family history (including a trip to Japan that directly preceded my son’s birth), was that I should write down the narratives of all those photos. She said I had to do this before my child was born. She actually repeated that advice a few times.

I didn’t listen. I didn’t write the stories. I should have. When my son was born, everything changed: my extra time disappeared, making work slowed way down.

Carrie Thompson with Goma. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the challenges of balancing motherhood with a career as an artist.  So, I decided to get some other photographers/mothers engaged in a conversation on the subject. There are a few things that I want to address in this exchange: I want us to talk about being women, mothers, and artists —how do we find balance among those roles? How do we continue to make work, raise children, and continue/find success with both?

For example, Alec Soth is obsessed with age on this blog (see here), but I think something important is missing from that discussion. No one seems to address the fact that many people over 35 have children, families, and other responsibilities.

So, here’s my first question: Do you, as mothers, think that having children makes it harder to be successful?

Greta PrattTo this first question, I have to say that it completely depends on how you define “success.” If success is defined as a mad dash to the top of the ladder, and whoever gets there first is “successful” – then, yes, having children definitely interferes. But if “success” is defined in terms of quality of life — as in being loved and showing love and having deep, long term relationships that cause you to question the meaning of life and love and art, and that help you to look at the world through different eyes – well, then I would say that having children helps you to be successful.

Photo courtesy of Greta Platt.

 

Beth Dow with her son, Miles, and daughter, Maisie. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Beth DowI can’t lay claim to the word “successful,” but I’ll substitute “productive.” I envy people who can switch on their focused mind in an instant. Focus for me comes much more inconsistently, and if I’m really engrossed in something, the worst thing that can happen is having real life

get in the way. If I suddenly need to get someone from school, for example, if I’m in the middle of a project, it’s like a million little bubbles popping, and it’s difficult for me to regain that focus later. This is especially true when I’m writing. When the kids were little and I had a tight deadline, I warned them that they could only interrupt me if they were bleeding especially badly (black humor fuels our household).

Now, to address the “harder” part of your question, “Is it harder to be successful?”: I often feel like I should apologize to my kids for having a career, and to my career for having a life.

Paula McCartneyI just read Beth’s comment after listening to my two-and-a-half-year-old yell from his bedroom, both in joy and in despair, for two hours in an attempt to not got to sleep. The whole time, I was sitting in the living room, trying to prepare tomorrow’s photo history lecture.  I can definitely relate to what Beth is saying about finding it difficult to focus.  When Oliver is talking — whether he’s in the same room with me or not — I find it extremely hard to concentrate on anything else.

Paula McCartney and her son, Oliver. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Having a child and an art career, as well as teaching – it’s a lot to juggle.  I always wonder about how to manage it all and I’ve asked other women how they do it. The most helpful response I’ve gotten was from a photographer who I greatly admire; she said, “Sometimes you are a not-so-great artist, sometimes a not-so-great mother, and sometimes a not-so-great teacher.”  Hearing that made me feel not-so-bad about being not-so-great all the time at everything I am trying to do.

Since grad school, I’ve made the decision to define “success” as continually moving forward in some way, even if very slowly.  And while I continue to ask artists with children how they do it, always hoping for some bit of wisdom that will make my own juggle easier, I realize that I already am doing it.  For me, finding some balance (though that word makes life seem a little more stress-free than it is) happened when my son started going to day care two days a week. I had those days as studio days, which meant I could focus on my work during that time, teach a few mornings each week, and then be genuinely present when I was with him.

The thing that I have seemed to sacrifice to being an artist and the mother of a young child and teaching is having a social life.   In the whirlwind of the first two years, I didn’t pay that much attention to it, but I’ve recently made much more of an attempt to make dates with my friends (mostly other women artists, many with children).

When I think of all the women I am friends with who are artists, the ones who would be considered the more “successful” are the ones with children.  So, I guess I’m saying: No, having a child doesn’t make you less successful — just more tired.  And while, for me, life is definitely more difficult with a child, it is also definitely more amazing.

Danielle MericleI, like everyone, am so busy most the time I forget how useful camaraderie can be.  That said, I’ve been surprised at the positive impact motherhood has had on me, both in a general sense and artistically.  I was one of those who had little or no interest in having kids, so when I found myself pregnant, I was pretty terrified at what it might mean in my life.  Much to my relief, I’ve found that it has made me less anxious about “career,” more genuinely invested in the process of creating, and happier, in general.  I think this is for a few reasons: First, I simply don’t have the time to be anxious anymore. After the full-time job, and Charley (and house, food, exercise, etc.), I get, on average, a half-day per week to focus on my work. So, when I’m in my studio, I’m working, and it feels so nice, so necessary, to have that space to work, however little the time.

I also have experienced a major shift in my priorities (a cliché, I know); I’m not sure that I can entirely articulate the change, but I know that my definition of “success” is different, and that it has much less to do with the notion you have in art school — of art-stardom. Rather, the kind of “success” I think of now is a better match for what I really want to do in life — which, fundamentally speaking, is to have an interesting and fulfilling life.

Danielle Mericle with her son, Charley

This is not to say that my experience has been totally rosy and without issues. My darker moments have come over battles for time. My husband is a working artist, too, and our struggles for an hour here or there have been a constant throughout our tenure as parents (almost three years now). For whatever reason, I’ve had a tendency to relinquish my time more than I would like; it has been a really terrible habit that I’ve had to consciously break.  If I had any advice to a new mother/artist, it would be to guard what little time you have; it may not feel like much to give up an afternoon, but considered from the perspective of protecting your sanity, it’s huge. Other things: I, too, have little or no social life, which is fine for now.  I worry that we’ve alienated a few people around here since we had kids, but there’s not much to do about it. (And, really, I don’t know that we actually have.) And I don’t read anymore — this drives me crazy, and I’m really looking forward to time for books coming back into my life.

Amy Stein: Danielle’s comments really resonate for me – many of them are spot-on descriptions of my recent experiences as a mother. I, too, feel less anxious about career concerns than I did before Sam came along. I used to be very consumed by my work and career. Now, I feel I’m much more relaxed about it, like I have more perspective on my professional trajectory, as well as many other aspects of my life. The clichés we often hear — that motherhood is “transformative” and “puts things into perspective — are uttered so frequently because they are true. And yet even those clichés don’t go far enough toward describing the awesome, overwhelming changes that motherhood brings. In the past six months since I’ve become a mother, these changes have overwhelmed me and thrown everything I knew before out the window. I am still adjusting to the countless large and small impacts motherhood has had on my life. But as a 41-year-old first-time mom, I welcome those changes.

Before, I think I was getting used to the idea that the major positive changes of life were over for me. I switched careers at 32, and then built a new career in the arts that was satisfying and rewarding. Sure, I still had a long way to go, but I was happy to plug away at it everyday, grateful I could spend my days making, thinking about, and teaching photography. We tried for a long time to get pregnant, and went through a lot to have a child. Just before I got the good news, I had resigned myself to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen for us. Then along came Sam.

Of course, there’s joy and the deep sense of connection that comes with having a child — which has made my life immeasurably fuller and more meaningful. As Danielle says, there’s also just less time to worry about yourself — which, for me, is a good thing, because I was spending about 90% of my time before motherhood fretting over work, career, and where to find meaning in my life. And now, there’s so much meaning that those demons are crowded out, swept away.

Amy Stein and her baby, Sam. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I think we, as artists and mothers, struggle with the same issues most working moms struggle with: limited time filled with overwhelming demands. We want to do well outside the home, with our careers, and also with our personal and home lives. Often, it’s just not possible to do it all well. And as Danielle mentions, the constant negotiations with one’s partner — about who will care for your child and when — are wearing. Then, there are the financial concerns: how to pay for childcare, etc. Finding the right balance is so hard — figuring out how much childcare you need to do your work and, for me, fighting guilt over watching someone else spend large amounts of time with my son, as I answer emails and Photoshop image files at my desk ten feet away. I feel incredibly relieved when the work gets done, but I am missing my son at the same time. It’s a cocktail of joy, resentment, and guilt.

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Look for the remaining two installments in this conversation next week. Meanwhile, what’s your story? Join this ongoing conversation in the comments below by sharing your own experiences and insights about juggling a creative career and the evolving demands of parenthood.