CAA

CAA News Today

LEADING THE FULL LIFE: BALANCING CAREER AND FAMILY

posted by Christopher Howard — Sep 29, 2009

The roundtable discussion, “Leading the Full Life: Balancing Career and Family,” took place at the 2009 CAA Annual Conference in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 26, 2009. As a part of the Career Development Mentoring Sessions, the discussion was hosted by an artist, Marie Thibeault of California State University, Long Beach, and an art historian, Nicola Courtright of Amherst College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Thibeault prepared questions to open the discussion with the participants. Each forty-minute session was attended by a variety of individuals who were contemplating having family while either pursuing or maintaining an academic career. Practical advice was sought and discussed, and issues of breaking stereotypes and overcoming limiting prejudice, especially against women who try to achieve both career and family within academia, particularly in the field of art history, were addressed. In general, the discussion brought to light the many choices and creative strategies, including resiliency and flexibility, that one could option for in attempts to balance a very full life.

Afterward, a number of artists—nine women and one man—were asked about their experiences being a parent and raising a family while maintaining an active art practice. Here are their written responses. Click on the images of artwork to see a larger view.

Constance Mallinson

Constance Mallinson

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

When my two children were really young, I found this extremely difficult. The fatigue factor, the awesome responsibility, and the love affair you have with your children sucked up most of my creative energy. But as I was able to get some scheduled household help—and this is completely dependent on financial resources, which were very tight at the time—I managed to schedule about twenty hours of painting time during the work week. The rest of the time I was either teaching (so I could afford the childcare) or playing and caring for my children. Finances eased up a bit when they entered school, and I usually had a good six-hour workday. I had to be extremely disciplined to get work done in those time slots, though. I had to work and not wait for inspiration. Work and inspiration—they are very tied together. Also I had to accept that at some times in my life I will be more productive than in others. Right now, my children will soon both be college age, and I see incredible amounts of time opening up. But would this free time develop any differently if I were caring for a sick mate or aged parent?

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

Parenting has made me more patient and appreciative of the creative process. One really values making art when it is constantly being challenged by time constraints. There’s a connection to life and the human spirit in family. Perhaps another question might be: how has creative practice affected your parenting? I think I have given my children an appreciation and love of life and a way of interacting and being in the world.

Constance Mallinson, Couple, 2009, oil on paper, 96 x 54 in. (artwork © Constance Mallinson)

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

While there have been times I was fearful that just mentioning that I was a mother might prejudice others as to the seriousness and intentions of my work, I now see that there are many connections between parenting and making art: sensitivity, perception, caring, hard work, discipline, communication, and so on. I see raising children and being an artist as mutually reinforcing rather than at odds—but that took years to realize. I just become more relaxed about it all as it unfolds. Being a parent has been especially good for my teaching style. All the things you learn as a parent transfer to effective teaching: nurture, empathy, knowing when to let an experience happen, knowing when to let them fail, etc. Also, being a parent means having little time for socializing and networking with other artists unless they are also parents. The self-absorption of artists makes them pretty unwilling to share time with children. But I did find other artist parents to be with, and that’s important.

What support systems have been the most important to you?

Hands down—having a supportive, understanding, and contributing husband. My children’s grandparents were too old to be of help, sadly. The only time a friend ever offered to help was in exchange for writing a review of her work! There were many times I had wished for grants to be awarded only to mothers, so they could afford childcare. Not having financial resources for childcare was really frustrating at times.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

My strongest advice would be having enough money for childcare and having a supportive and willing mate. Without those, don’t consider it. You will be frustrated, angry, and exhausted. Or you have to compromise with the idea that you will not make much art until your child reaches school age. But there is always the issue of working a job too, and finding studio time. There is just nothing easy about being an artist. I wouldn’t do it differently, but I might have done it when my parents were younger. But the determination to keep making art through some very trying times has made me a stronger, more flexible, and more compassionate person overall—those are qualities a person needs to have no matter what the profession.

Hagop Najarian

The Najarian Family. From left: Dash, Andrea, Evy, and Hagop

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

I am fortunate to have a spouse that is also an artist and completely aware of the demands of being in the studio. Because parenting works at its best when both parents are sharing the duties, my creative time is only possible when my wife and I agree on a time when the children do not need our help. My kids are now eleven and twelve and more independent. When they were younger, my creative time took place after the children went to bed. So I got in the schedule of working in the studio from 8:00 to 11:00 PM. This task is always more difficult for a mother, especially in the early years of nursing and transitioning from not having a second person (the child) always reliant on you.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

It is a reality check, forcing me to be more critical with my time and the structural elements in the creative process of painting. Worrying about the right color or composition in a painting is put into a different perspective when you are changing diapers and folding laundry. The time in the studio becomes very specific: starting the work, studying the work, and deconstructing the work.

Hagop Najarian, Nature Is a Language, 2008, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 in. (artwork © Hagop Najarian)

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

We are who we are due to our life experiences. Everything I am relates to the foundational years of my youth. My identity as a parent is to provide an honest example as a human being to my children. Likewise in my paintings, I am always hoping to express an optimistic human level. As an artist, you can’t fool yourself.

The adjustments I have made as an artist are probably in the time spent socializing in the art community, which is usually the best way to be successful in exhibiting work. A direct result of being less social is not showing my work as much—parenting became a priority in my life.

What support systems have been the most important to you?

Keeping relationships with other artists who are making the same adjustments and compromises while parenting and having a productive studio life. Also, other forms of art such as making music—which really isn’t related to my exhibition career—keep me sane.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

Prioritize the important things in their lives—family, job, art career—and figure out where the art career is on that list. Prioritize what part of the art world you want: showing, selling, the community, or just making art for your own sanity. Choose your audience: who do you really want to see your work?

Do not let the social conventions and pressures of the art world dictate your happiness and joy of living life and raising your children.

Amy Thornberry

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

Really I combine the two—they completely overlap. I get many ideas while reading my daughter stories, for instance, or while making a bed I may see a marvelous shadow cast on the wall and will have to stop and draw, if only for ten minutes.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

It’s a lot about stringing those little ten-minute stretches together until I’m able to carve out larger chunks of time. For me there are no more eight-hour periods of uninterrupted time. I’m more flexible and consider change differently. I try to remember my vision for the big picture.

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

My identity as a parent is that of a sun. My daughter’s existence fills me with light and joy. As an artist I always felt I was lacking, searching. Now as a parent I try to teach my artist self that whatever I have here will be enough, that I can make it work, and to go with the light for better or worse. Foolish missteps along the way mean little in the big picture.

Whenever you have a Kramer versus Kramer day, do something to change it. Write in a journal to record your small progress, and to capture the joy and beauty in your life. Reading over this journal can help revive you when you are feeling buried in bills and chores. Do whatever feeds you, so that the discouraging times pass and you can not only function but also radiate love in your home. Then your art can grow.

And try not to let three years pass without going to the dentist.

What support systems have been the most important to you?

My fellow mom friends at the Isabel Patterson Child Development Center at California State University, Long Beach.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

Do not feel you have to adhere to anyone else’s priorities or schedule. Do what feels right for you, and don’t beat yourself up if it feels like you’re not making art for a period—you will. Take baby steps. Take tiny baby steps and ask for help.

Sandra Dal Poggetto

Sandra Dal Poggetto

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

Quite well, by keeping regular hours in the studio and being disciplined.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

Parenting has deepened my life experience and slowed down the development of my work, and perhaps broadened and deepened it—one can’t know.

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

There has not been an adjustment, only disappointment. My experience has been that an artist is judged as not being as serious about the commitment to art by choosing to have a child. This is a prejudice in the art community. Men can have children and still be an artist without this judgment.

Sandra Dal Poggetto, Alagnak, 2007, soft pastel, ptarmigan feathers, and steel wire on paper, 54 x 46 in. (artwork © Sandra Dal Poggetto)

What support systems have been the most important to you?

My husband and a few art friends, of course, but also writers—reading a lot of fiction and nonfiction has helped. Also, I try to stay rooted in my work by being very selective in the use of my time.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

I wouldn’t say “art career.” I’d say if a person is an artist by nature and wants to have a child, then he or she makes it work in whatever ways are available and possible. The solution will be imperfect. By not having children one maintains more control over one’s life—this allows an artist to be more productive, but not necessarily a better artist.

Virginia Katz

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

During the hours my children were in elementary, middle, and high school, I worked in my studio. After school, I did all the “mom” things with them: sports, music, homework, and dinner. I was tired at night but it worked. Now that my kids are in college, looking back I don’t think I would have done much very differently. There are a few moments I wish I could have done better, for example, when my elementary-age son was sick at school, it took me longer than I had wanted—I was at grad school, which was a half hour away—to get to him and take him home.

Virginia Katz and her sons, Jason and Warren

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

Parenting has given me a strong work ethic because I made the most of my available time. The way I did that was to be very organized.

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

I really wanted to have children. It was a very strong desire for me. I spent the first three years at home with them, and when they were old enough to go to preschool, I reestablished my studio practice. By now, this is not a new identity since my two sons are in college! I’m a very happy mother, and at this stage I have no empty-nest syndrome.

Virginia Katz, detail of Formations – Mixed Terrain, 2009, mixed media and mixed process on paper, 66 x 36 in. (artwork © Virginia Katz)

What support systems have been the most important to you?

My family was very helpful. My mother was happy to help me, and she did believe in me! Take family and friends up on their offers to assist, but be careful that you feel comfortable with those who help you, particularly if they stay with your children one-on-one as opposed to just picking up something at the grocery store for you.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

There are two sides to being a practicing artist. On the one hand, an active practice is divine, wonderful, fulfilling, and intellectually stimulating. However, it can be extremely frustrating and difficult if you’re making your financial living this way. At the same time, being a parent no matter what your profession is a full-time commitment. Personally, it is my belief that the child’s needs must come first; however, it is possible to work in the studio and be a good parent; it just takes patience and planning.

Philippa Blair

Philippa Blair (center) and her daughters

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

It’s not a matter of balance but instead of organizing time for creative work separate from parenting responsibilities. From a young age, my children were aware and respected their mother’s work ethic and commitment to her art. This work ethic also transferred to the children. They are now both adults and in creative professions, as an artist and an art historian, writer, and curator.

Independent of spirit, I tried to ignore my detractors. The positive side is that the criticism made me stronger and more determined. The activity of painting sometimes merges with kid’s play, and studio time was incorporated into my children’s lives at an early stage. Fun is important. Make it fun—kids learn when they make things! Balancing being a mother, artist, teacher, and partner is difficult but not impossible.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

The joys, pleasures, and hardships of parenting and the necessity of managing time have greatly improved my creative process. There is osmosis both ways, through ideas, humor, curiosity, new subject matter, travel, and more. The everyday working artist and teacher is exhausted a lot of the time, but having children can help, inspire, relax, and excite the imagination. Watching them grow, change, and develop is a bonus. We take pride in each other’s achievements.

As an artist, I never questioned my choice to become a mother. One makes it work. There are organic connections, parallels, and possibilities as creative parents, which help intellectual, spiritual growth in a wider, less self-obsessed world. Having the responsibility of children solidified my artistic commitments, and I see parenting and artistic practice as concurrent developments in a long, human life.

Philippa Blair, Dancing Bear Diptych, 2009, mixed media, 48 x 96 in. (artwork © Philippa Blair)

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

Being an artist is not always a typical nine-to-five activity. Having a home studio can help, as can having babysitters. Teaching from the time the kids were in preschool was a financial necessity. The past ten years I have been a full-time artist. Fractured conversations and interrupted sleep, though, were small prices to pay.

Parent versus artist implies a struggle to survive in a competition. Both are equally important lifelong commitments, and it’s important to include children in your creative life—it’s character building for all of us.

What support systems have been the most important to you?

Loving parents, grandparents, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, extended family members, babysitters, teaching colleagues, school and university faculties, social clubs, and artist friends. Also important were several very caring and supportive art dealers who I knew from when I first started exhibiting at the age of twenty-three. It takes a tribe of supporters to raise a child, but it also takes mostly the parents’ support. Avoid those who are waiting for you to topple off the pedestal of Supermum—you represent a threat more than anything. Male colleagues can get jealous and rage, trying to erase you from art history and advancement—but that’s okay. It’s about their fears, not yours. Concentrate on your work!

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

Being a young parent (in my mid-twenties) helped, as I had more energy and multitasking wasn’t so hard. I just worked all the time at everything—it was naïve, really! Avoid negativity and power playing, and understand that not everyone is thrilled, appreciative, understanding, or generous about your situation. Health, energy, fertility, and financial considerations are important, although I believe there is too much emphasis on materialistic culture. Money is not the answer to a richly creative life, but poverty is demoralizing—somehow there should be a balance. My children were raised in a South Pacific nation with many cultural influences and languages, and also proximity to vast natural resources and excellent schools. Their parents separated, but they maintained a connection to both.

Try and get a good general education and professional qualifications before embarking on the childrearing phase. Talk to others in similar positions who have started families. Often careful planning and other people’s advice can help calculating when the time is right. Often timing is blown apart: circumstances for me changed when I became a solo parent, when my children were five and three.

Don’t stop your artistic practice for too long. As a new parent, it’s harder to retrain, focus, and wind into it again. Keep practicing, creating something every day, so that no experience is wasted.

The privileges that come from maintaining the fluctuations of an art career develop over a long time, and the ups and downs of parenting to me are part of this journey.

Never give up and enjoy your kids—learn from them too. They are always such great artists!

Nancy Curran

Nancy Curran and her two sons

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

When my children were younger, I tried to use every minute while they napped, played with friends, or after they went to bed at night, to create. As they have grown and developed busier lives themselves, I can pretty much use a structured and preplanned time each day.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

At times, it has both helped and hindered. Parenting has helped in that I can put my worst art moments into perspective and know what is truly important are my children. It has also helped me to compartmentalize my time. I have very little spare time, so when I enter the studio, I need to focus right away.

Parenting has hindered me because, due to time constraints, it has taken me a long time, educationally, to obtain my MFA degree. On the other hand, had I not decided to take time off from my first field of study, speech pathology, to raise my children, I probably would not have taken the opportunity to return to school to develop my artistic skills until even later in life.

Nancy Curran, Submerge-Emerge, 2009, oil on canvas, 72 x 60 in. (artwork © Nancy Curran)

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

For me, this was reversed: I was a parent before I became an artist.

What support systems have been the most important to you?

Husband, mother-in-law, girl friends, and neighbors

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

Probably to be aware that parenting will be the most rewarding thing you will do in your life—but also the most frustrating thing. To balance parenting and an art career, I think it’s important to set goals, but be ready to achieve them at a slower pace. Know that there will be times of unexpected interruptions or situations beyond your control when you cannot work creatively, for example, child illness, temper tantrums and meltdowns (both yours and theirs), childcare not working out, etc. Go with it. Pick up the pace when things return to a more even level.

Hilary Norcliffe

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

I haven’t. As a single parent, I have decided I can teach and mother. I can make art and mother. But I can’t teach, make art, and mother. Making art always comes last.

As my daughter Sophie has grown older, one change I’ve found, though, is that while all my art making happened only in my head, in my exhaustion while she was a baby, I am now able to actually jot down my ideas and test out a few samples of them—which is more satisfying. One or two ideas actually manifest themselves into actual work.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

I have changed my content: my work is about my life, and my life is mainly about my daughter. I pay close attention to anthropomorphisms and fairies now. I have dreams of writing a children’s book. I have less space to work in, so my work is smaller and more self-contained. I don’t take on big projects. I let Sophie interfere in my art making (to a controlled extent), so that it can also be about spending time with her. I also try to set up work that can be done in short bursts of time—take a few stitches or strokes while the kids are distracted.

Interestingly, the content in my three-dimensional work hasn’t changed nearly as much as that in my two-dimensional work.

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

I love it. I love the much broader social circle in the community that parenting has drawn me into, and it in turn loves having an artist in their midst. I find it much healthier to have connections with a broader social spectrum.

I’ve pretty much had to give up going to openings, as they usually happen around bath time. But I never liked them that much anyway!

What support systems have been the most important to you?

Family, friends, neighbors, church. The artist community is the least supportive when it comes to parenting. However, as a single parent, I have held as beacons single mother artists such as Kim Abeles and Ann Hamilton, who have pursued highly successful careers and raised children on their own. These women are lights in the storm for me, and just knowing they exist encourages me to not give up art making.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

Marry someone rich, sane, and supportive. Failing that, as long as you have financial stability somewhere, it’s all so worth it.

Tera Galanti

Tera Galanti and her daughter, Mariah

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

I always feel like I am not doing enough! It is an ongoing challenge. I try to get as much done when my daughter Mariah is in school (if I am not teaching.) Another thing I try to do when possible: set aside parts of my project that I can work on when I am either waiting for her in a “lesson” or another time when I can do something with my hands.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

I need to have more patience with myself: even though I can’t complete a piece as fast as I would like to, I know that I will get back to it soon. My time is more fragmented, yet I work on creating a balanced life.

Tera Galanti, For Ruby 1, 2009, oil on panel, 3 x 3 in. (left); and For Ruby 2, 2009, oil on panel, 2½ x 4 in. (artworks © Tera Galanti)

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

I actually worked on a research project in graduate school based on these same questions. I interviewed other artists who were mothers and asked them how they managed it. This helped me quite a bit.

What support systems have been the most important to you?

My husband, and several very good friends.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

I think it’s important to know what your life goals are. If you are a person who wants art to be a constant part of your life, being a parent is definitely possible. When my son was young, I went to a counselor who showed me a “life grid.” On this grid were things like family, career, friends, religion, etc. This made a big impression on me, and I often visualize this grid and am happy to be filling out many of the squares. My son is now nineteen and my daughter is ten. I think it’s been healthy for them to be around my art-making practice. However, children have real needs that often won’t wait. If you are a person that really wants that art square to be the biggest and only square, then yours will be a long difficult road. I had a high school art teacher who once told me, “Well my dear, it’s all a matter of priorities.”

Christina Shurts

Christina Shurts and her daughter, Grace

How have you managed to balance your creative time with that of parenting?

I’ve had to completely combine everything: my practice, my four-year-old daughter, cleaning, and making dinner. She has a small spot in my studio with her own art stuff. But my quiet studio time is scheduled during hours of childcare. I get much done during this time and don’t feel as guilty, because she loves playing with other children.

We have a group project table in the house that must remain messy and creative. This way I don’t feel caged in while in the house.

Also, my home is never completely balanced. There is always something out of place. I haven’t accepted it yet but I know I will.

How has parenting affected your creative practice?

I’m not as selfish, and because of that I hope to offer more to the viewer than my own pleasure of making things.

How have you adjusted to your new identity as a parent versus that as an artist?

They came at the same time. I made the decision to follow the path of an artist when I was pregnant. One day my husband said, “What is it with this art thing?” I didn’t get mad, but I just knew it was what I must do. I made the decision because that’s what I would want my daughter and my nieces to do: follow their true nature.

Christina Shurts, Here, Now and Then, 2009, oil on canvas, 70 x 80 in. (artwork © Christina Shurts)

What support systems have been the most important to you?

My husband tries his best to understand and is very helpful. Also, my parents work hard to let me know they believe in me. My dad is an artist and an actor—he has even been in an “art group” with me. We would meet every week and chat.

What advice would you give someone now who is considering an art career and parenting?

I hope that it can be done. My husband is still paying the bills, and there have been weeks on end where we have to eat only from our cupboards. But I offer our family a community of artists and an open mindedness that I wouldn’t have access to if I hadn’t pursued this path.

I asked my daughter Grace if she thinks a person can be a parent and an artist. Here’s what she said: “It might be too much. It’s hard being a mommy and doing the paint. It’s hard doing stuff all by yourself, and it’s hard cleaning for Mom. I really like being a kid, and I know my Mom likes being a mommy. I wonder if you used to be a kid—did you?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: