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This article was published 1/3/2017 (1689 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Historically, one of the obstacles that held back female artists was the entrenched notion that motherhood and creative work were incompatible, both so demanding and all-consuming that they couldn’t possibly co-exist.
While many of the institutional barriers that hampered women artists have broken down, this attitude persists, subtly but stubbornly, and often in the most unexpected places.
Contemporary British artist Tracey Emin has suggested her provocative, hell-raising career has been possible because she is childless.
"There are good artists that have children. Of course there are," she told Red Magazine in 2014. "They are called men."
Marina Abramovic may be considered "the grandmother of performance art," but the 70-year-old Serbian-born artist has no biological children. "I had three abortions because I was certain that it would be a disaster for my work," she stated in a very frank 2016 interview with the German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.
"In my opinion, (children are) the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world."
Manitoba artist Lisa Wood, who is a professor of visual art at Brandon University, isn’t having it. Along with many female artists in her generation, she is continuing to create ambitious work while raising a child, in her case three-year-old son Garnet.
At this Friday’s Art Talk/Art Walk at the Free Press News Café, Wood will discuss some of the controversial issues around creativity and motherhood.
In Wood’s view, the proverbial "pram in the doorway" is not the enemy of art. For Wood, each role — mother and artist — can actually inform and enrich the other.
Perhaps it helps that Wood’s work, even before the birth of her child, has often dealt with issues of identity, family and community, with the rhythms and rituals of domestic life, with sleeping and eating. Wood’s paintings of family members and friends are full of ordinary moments expanded and intensified through her close observation and intimate brushwork.
Wood doesn’t want to sugarcoat the realities of combining art and parenting.
"It is hard to do both," she admits. "And I totally respect that not all people want to be mothers."
For Wood, the guilt and second-guessing started when she was pregnant, when she had to research the risks of working with solvents and other chemicals.
When Garnet was born, she would take him to the studio, putting him in the BabyBjorn, hoping he would sleep so that she could draw.
"There was a real identity crisis that happened, especially when he was really young and depended on me for everything," she relates. "That became a real challenge with my artistic practice."
"But also art became something absolutely necessary I had to do, to maintain an identity that was separate from being a mother."
Wood, like so many working mothers, developed some coping strategies. "I’ve become way, way more efficient," she says. "I hear this a lot from other artist-mothers. Time is now my most important resource."
Wood also acknowledges that she is very fortunate. "I have a super-supportive partner and both my mom and my partner’s mom do child care for us," she says. Even so, she had to learn to let go. "I can’t be that perfect Pinterest mom," she jokes.
Wood also received some advice from fellow painter Diane Whitehouse. "She told me the biggest adjustment was trying to be as present as she could be in whatever role she was in," Wood says.
"So when she was in the studio she was an artist and she was fully an artist, and when she was with her kids she was a mother as best she could be," Wood relates. "Trying not to carry guilt over from what you’re not doing, that’s probably the hardest part for me."
Wood acknowledges that it can be annoying that male artists who are also fathers are rarely asked these kinds of questions. "I think it’s absolutely a double standard," she says.
"But things will get better as men feel it’s OK to take on more of a parenting role, and I see a shift in that happening."
The stereotype of the lonely, driven artist locked in the studio also needs to change, Wood suggests. "There is this false, outdated notion of the artists’ genius — like, you couldn’t possibly be thinking about anything else, ever."
Many artist-mothers feel torn, pulled in two directions by the myth of the perfect mother on one side and the cliché of the obsessive artist on the other. On Friday, Wood will talk about seeing motherhood and art not as adversaries but as allies.
We’ll be discussing art as a "motherhood issue" with artist Lisa Wood at Friday’s Art Talk at the Free Press News Café at 6 p.m. Call 204-697-7069 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve tickets, which are $20.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.