Sunday, April 7, 2013

Art and motherhood: some thoughts

My sentimental painting rag: my eldest daughter's size 1 singlet

I didn't pick up a painbrush until a few months after my first child was born. (How I came to pick up that brush is a story for another day).

So I've now been painting for just under four years. And for this reason I feel that painting and motherhood are inextricably linked for me.

In a way, I feel it was motherhood which lead me to painting. So I am indebted to my children for the gift of discovering this thing that I now cannot not do.

At the same time, my domestic responsibilities mean I can't spend as much time as I would like on my creative endeavours. But on the other hand, before I had children I frittered away time. I squandered it. But of course, I didn't yet paint either.

And now, although the time I spend caring for them means my art making time is limited, in another apparent paradox, I get more done. I procrastinate less. When it's nap time for my youngest I know I have an hour or two to do something useful. So I do it. If my husband takes the girls out for a morning, I work. Many nights I paint, even when I think I'm too tired. I sit down at the easel and I wake up. I can't spend a whole day on painting or drawing (oh, the luxury!) but these short bursts of time add up.

But there's also the guilt thing. That nagging voice which says, 'what are you doing? Who do you think you are? Painting when there are dirty dishes at the sink. Wet washing in the machine. Hundreds of family photos to print and archive. (Okay, the dishes and the washing I can leave, but that last one keeps me awake at night.)

Rachel Power calls it 'the divided heart' - the pull between the desire to actively and mindfully parent and the deep urge to create art - a feeling I am sure most mothers who are called to a creative pursuit can identify with.

And yet...if I don't paint and don't draw and don't write, a kind of resentment creeps in. A restlessness and distractedness that I know also means I'm not being present as a mother.

It has taken me a long time (and I still sometimes miss the signs) but I've learnt to recognise those feelings and take action. In fact, I now try not to let it get that far.

I have 'artist dates' at least once a week (just an hour or two, but that's enough for now) where I go off by myself and draw or write. (I have a very supportive husband, I have to add. Kim, if you're reading this, you're the best.) And I allow myself to prioritise painting over other domestic tasks which, while they would be nice to complete, won't make the household fall apart if I don't do them.

And so the guilt thing? I still feel it. But when I do I just acknowledge it: oh, hi, you're here again. I observe it and then I let it pass. Because when I make time to paint and draw and write I know I am a better person and a better mother.

Recently I watched the incredible documentary Finding Joe which explores the idea that we could all be living Joseph Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' if only we answered that fabled 'call to adventure'. It's inspiring stuff.

But the aspect of the Hero's Journey that I hadn't considered before was the idea that to complete the circle of the journey, the hero must return home to tell the story, to teach others how to take the journey.

In practical terms this means that the story of your life is the teaching. I interpret this to mean, for me, that the narrative of my life is the example I hold up to my kids. Do I want them to live a wholehearted life, to be true to themselves and what calls them?

If I do then I have to turn the mirror on myself. What kind of life do I want to live? What story do I want to tell? What do I want to teach them through my actions? And when I think about it like this, well, it all becomes very simple.