In my annual process of clearing out my email newsletters and feeds I came across this discussion opener from a linkedin arts group: “I believe families are terrible studio mates. I also believe women need to support one another by creating spaces and groups to support them when family fails them.”
This is such a recurrent theme of so much of what is written about and for women who choose to be artists, I had to respond.
I have been a working artist, artist/teacher for over 40 years. While there have been magical periods when I had formal studio space, much of my work has been done on the dining room table, or at the easel tucked onto the sun porch between bicycles and toys. I’ve had periods when I’ve been richly supported by fellow artists as part of a working group, and periods when the only artists I “communicated” with were masters hung on a museum wall. I’ve given over all kinds of my supplies to a school project, and certainly stopped work to shuttle kids or spouse, or make dinner. Through the years there has been an undercurrent of justified unhappiness with my not having a “real job”, and always no hesitation to interrupt my work with a “where are my socks” question.
But, there has always been a respect for my work, and my working at my art. Even when small, my children knew better than to touch my work. I keep a decades-old, almost symbolic watercolor brush that was never, ever “borrowed,” nor have I never heard a single grouse when I would (and often still) be up until the wee hours working.
The difference for me is that when I work–while I’m vaguely aware that I have responsibilities at some hour, I am in such a state of flow that minor interruptions, grousing, surroundings are unimportant, I am in that state of being with the work. When I am there, I am separate from opinions or responses from anyone else. This isn’t something I deliberately learned through the years, as I remember feeling this state of flow in a high school classroom–that state of just not being aware of anything but my work.
While unfortunate, it is historically documented that for a woman to be an artist there are additional demands, restrictions placed on her working. Many women through the centuries have made an active choice to withdraw from the norm and not marry or have children. Absolutely I have had moments when I wish I had taken that route, and everyone in my family has heard me mutter (or bellow) “a room of one’s own!” from Virginia Woolf”s “A Room of One’s Own.”.
But in the end, as I learned from one of my first teachers–mine is truly the only important voice. I know when I absolutely have to work–or explode. I know when a piece is working or needs to be reworked or trashed. And I know when (whatever it is) it is finished. If I believe anything it is that. Every artist has that voice inside. Learning to focus on that voice can make all the difference.
So I will empty the dishwasher, put a load of laundry in, clear off the dining room table–and get back to finishing the drawing above.