For the New York Times Live, Jacoba Urist writes about motherhood and artistic practice, which to her make strange, if productive, bedfellows. She begins with quoting Tracey Emin saying, basically, that she knew she couldn’t be a great artist and parent at once, so the artist did’t have kids; and Urist finishes with a list of artists who are also mothers doing interesting work. It remains to be seen why she doesn’t also lump fathers into the mix. Read Urist in partial below, or the full version here.
The art world is full of enduring stereotypes. There’s the myth of the starving artist. The crazy artist. The hermit artist. And then there’s the childless artist— a woman (yes, she’s usually female) so fervidly dedicated to her craft that there’s no room in her life for motherhood. Indeed, some of the greatest visual artists — Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, and Lee Krasner — had no children. Kids and their constant battery of needs, the argument goes, are incompatible with true creativity. Art is supposed to be an all-consuming enterprise — and now modern parenting is too.
British sculptor and painter Tracey Emin never had children and doesn’t think she ever could have. Internationally renowned, Emin is known for “confessional” pieces like My Bed (1998), for which she staged her mattress with stained underwear and a used condom: The work is currently on view at Tate Britain after a 15-year hiatus. Nominated for the prestigious Turner prize in 1999, My Bed sold at Christie’s for around $4.3 million last July. Just three months after the record-breaking sale, Emin told U.K.’s Red Magazine that motherhood would have diminished her work: “I know some women can. But that’s not the kind of artist I aspire to be. I would have been either 100 percent mother or 100 percent artist. I’m not flaky and I don’t compromise.” There are good artists who are parents, assured Emin. Only they’re men. Mothers are too “emotionally torn.”
But there’s a group of rising artists who strongly reject the all-or-nothing, children-versus-art premise. Motherhood, they argue, has increased the complexity of their work and intensified their perspectives, whether or not their subject matter is domestic life. And they believe that the art world is slowly warming to the idea that great artists can also be great mothers.
*Image: Cig Harvey, “Kendall at Beauchamp,” courtesy the artist