Saturday, November 22, 2008

The art of raising babies

Year ago, when my children were small, I made a choice—babies or art.

Perhaps it is easier for a writer. But for a painter the choice is clear—you cannot pick up a baby when your hands are covered in cadmium yellow. It is poison. You can switch to pastels, but then the baby is always Technicolor and anyway, who knows what’s in those as well? So you switch to charcoal, but now the baby looks like you let him crawl around on the cellar floor, which in fact you do, and oh my god what is he putting in his mouth.

So you put down the charcoal stick and take him to the park. And then you don’t pick up the stick again for 17 yea… well you never pick it up again.

I did finally get my family to understand that the portion of the cellar where I used to make my art cannot be used as a dumping ground. They cleared it out and now I have a nice unimpeded view of the unfinished portrait of my mother that I started in 1999.
Perhaps I am just weak or a willing patsy of the patriarchy or maybe I wasn’t talented enough or committed enough, but someone has to cook dinner and someone has to take the baby to get her shots and someone has to hold the “real” job that pays for the health insurance. And you get tired of having to spell out what you need when you have spent your whole life anticipating what everybody else needs and they don’t even know it.

So, what? Am I an idiot? Am I weak? A failure? Or am I missing the point? My feminist sisters say, just like the patriarchy does, that after all it’s my fault. I should just have blithely gone on painting like Jo March writing with her gaudy cap. Sign on the door—IF THE CAP IS ON THE FLOOR I AM IN ARTISTIC AGONY AND NOT TO BE DISTURBED. GET YOUR OWN DAMN DINNER. Right.

Personally I am exhausted just trying to maintain floor space in my unused studio, let alone actually paint.

The problem is not that the children are all the creativity I need to fulfill my artistic impulse, but that they are such a drain on creative energy that I have none left to give a sheet of blank paper.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


It's not just lack of time, I tell myself. There's too much going on and I'm just not getting any ideas. Plus, you know, there's a lot going on. I have, probably, a broken finger, so it's too hard to type. This is such a busy time of year-- special projects at work, wrapping up house and business for the year end, weekly work seminar in Milwaukee, rehabbing the stairwell and the foyer.

I'm kidding myself, though. Mostly, it's that Nga Jee is here. I've written about this phenomenon before. When the kids are around I don't write. When they were small, the art-making slowly petered off. Even when they are living in my world as lightly as Nga Jee is this round, my creative impulse directs itself to them and away from the interior workings of my own brain and artistic needs.

The children (hardly that anymore!) are the canvas, even if at this point it's just a matter of cleaning the paint off the brushes prior to putting them away.