On “Art and Family”

Jessica Almacy
LALA Festival Artist Jessica Almasy discusses the realities of being an artist and a mom.

By Anat Shinar 

Last month, I attended a discussion organized by LALA Festival and facilitated by Family Tree Clinic Executive Director Alissa Light (which is an awesome organization) and writer/actress/teacher Jessica Almasy about Art and Family.

Alissa Light
Family Tree Clinic Director Alissa Light with her daughter Ada at the 2017 LALA Festival Art and Family discussion.

The discussion began in typical form: raising a family and balancing a career is hard (it really, really is). The American work culture is not very family-friendly, and women tend to bare the brunt of that. In addition, as an artist, having children can be even more challenging, because schedules are irregular, a parent might need to be away from home for a stretch of time, and the pay usually isn’t good enough to help alleviate child care costs. The group discussion led to two key ideas:

  1. Ask employers for more support and
  2. Ask your village for more support.

These talks often feel like they just go in circles. Participants share anecdotes of when we’ve succeeded and when we’ve failed, when we’ve faced discrimination and when we’ve been overwhelmed by support. As I sat down to write this, I started going down the rabbit hole of existing essays on parenting (mostly mothering) while working as an artist. These writings generally took two directions: compartmentalizing these identities of parent and artist or allowing parenting to unapologetically influence your art and artistic practice (the answer is probably somewhere in the middle).

Chantal Pavageaux
LALA Festival Artistic Director Chantal Pavageaux helps kids attending the 2017 Art and Family discussion make signs.

Unconvinced that I have a new perspective to add, here’s an annotated bibliography of some of the essays I read, with just a touch of commentary.

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom
By Kim Brooks

This one probably aligns with my own thoughts on parenting the most (with some exceptions). Here, Brooks argues that art-making and parenting are inherently in conflict with one another, but don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To Brooks, art strives to disrupt social systems, while parenting relies on these structures to provide comfort and safety. In an effort to reconcile these oppositional constructs, Brooks finds her base parenting level– the “least possible parent I could be while still living with myself” in order to still be an artist. That’s not to say, though, that these identities must be compartmentalized in order to succeed, but that it’s important to honestly address what you need, what you want, and what you can live with.

2. You Can Be A Mother And Still Be A Successful Artist
By Marina Cashdan

Leave behind those antiquated notions that women have to choose between career and
parenting and do what you want. Artists Kara Walker, Nikki Maloof, Laurie Simmons, and more talk about their experiences as artist-parents, building support systems, and the double standards that women face whether or not they have kids. Also, Marina Abramovic sucks.

3. The Art Of Having It All
By Katherine Gressel

This is mostly a response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s essay for the Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. It was a fairly boring read, and you should probably just skip it. But, I read it, so here we are. Gressel takes the stance that the arts a good field for women with children because you can have flexible hours (I half agree) and that unlike corporate structures, “success for an artist is open to interpretation” (I mostly disagree). At the end of the essay, Gressel describes the challenges women face as “perceived,” which is incredibly unfortunate.

4. On The Parent-Shaped Hole In The Art World
Maibritt Borgen

In response to The Let Down Reflex, an exhibition addressing parenting issues among artists. Rather than a summation, here are some great quotes: “Namely, it is assumed in the art world that after becoming a parent you will no longer participate in professional life at the same rate: your traveling will be limited, you will no longer attend as many events, you cannot devote every waking moment to your studio or critical practice. And as the art world rewards such affective labour of continuous participation, this assumption will soon render you un-invited, and then forgotten..

“The affective, unpaid labour of parenting interrupts the art world’s self-absorbed structure of a hermetically sealed circuit of people who share socioeconomic backgrounds, ambitions and interests.”

5. How To Be An Unprofessional Artist
Andrew Berardini

Not at all about parenting, but an easy read challenging the capitalist, corporate structure that marks an artist as “successful” and “professional.” Related to an earlier idea that success is subjective and the notion that having a family may appear to some as “unprofessional” or hinder an artist’s ability to be taken seriously.

Related: Go Pro: The Hyper-Professionalization of the Emerging Artist

Other related essays:

18 Musical Moms Talk Motherhood
By Max Blau

Can Women in the Art World “Have It All” Responses to The Atlantic’s Contentious Article
By Alanna Martinez

Why can’t great artists be mothers?
By Jacoba Urist

There are so many more out there. Google away!


Anat Shinar is a Minneapolis-based contemporary artist, working in performance and visual mediums. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BFA in Dance and Visual Arts and completed her Master’s degree in Arts & Cultural Leadership in 2015. Her work has been presented at the Red Eye, Southern Theater, Soap Factory, Bryant Lake Bowl, Monday Live Arts/SooVAC, The Ritz Theater, and the Cowles Center. As a performer, she has worked with Morgan Thorson, Chris Schlichting, BodyCartography Project, Anna Marie Shogren, Carl Flink, and more. In addition to performance, she is a consulting curator at the Walker Art Center, is an educator with Young Dance, as well as is their Development Director, and serves on the Steering Committee for DanceMN, a weekly e-newsletter and online resource for the Twin Cities Dance Community.


Photo Credit: Missy Simon Photography

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