How Difficult it is for Mothers to be Successful Artists

Mother’s Day’s around the corner and I’m reminded of an issue I’d heard about a few years ago: the myth (or truism? You decide) that one can’t be both a mother and a successful artist. While the truth of the statement may be debatable, what is true is that women will have great difficulty jump-starting or maintaining an artistic career if they also have to meet the demands of raising children.

This issue – and others related to being a woman and an artist – was covered in the 2008 documentary Who Does She Think She Is. See the trailer below, which begins with a newscaster listing the names of several famous female artists – none of whom had children. (I would add Embellished Manuscripts-favorite Frida Kahlo to the list. Kahlo could never have children because of a bus accident that nearly killed her at 18):

A few money quotes from the trailer:

“We have 80% female students at the school of visual arts but in the real world we have 70-80% male artists working in galleries and museums.”

“I had a museum director in my studio and he said, you know, you’re never really going to be taken seriously because you’re a woman and a mother.”

“I was really torn because I wanted to dedicate myself to my kids and yet I wanted to be in the studio all the time. I had lots of people saying I was selfish.”

The documentary is interesting viewing for anyone interested in the arts – or any concerned women or mothers who can relate! It argues that women and mothers need to be supported and empowered to get their work out there.

“An Interesting Life”

Another place where the mother/artist dynamic is discussed is a beautiful essay by Alicia Ostriker, “A Wild Surmise: Motherhood and Poetry.” Ostriker argues that the two roles (mother and artist) can co-exist. You will not suddenly, upon having children, lack “an interesting life.” While I can’t find the essay online, an excerpt from it can be found on this blog (along with the writer’s own thoughts, having been inspired by it.)

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts? Are there any mothers or women who have some personal beliefs or stories related to this problem? Comment below!

2 comments on “How Difficult it is for Mothers to be Successful Artists

  1. I am a mother of a 2 year old daughter and I also have two step-sons who live with me and my partner full time at the moment. I am currently a full time University student, in my final tear studying a Visual arts degree. My art practice, theory and research is based on this very subject.
    I think that is you want it enough and you have the support you need then you can achieve anything, its just a case of balancing your time between the two. You don’t have to neglect your children for your art, spending precious time with your family can inspire you. My daughter is in nursery full time and I use that time to get as much work done as possible, this pushes me to work harder and to make the most of the time I have. I go home and spend every moment there with my family. on weekends I work whilst my daughter has afternoon naps and in the evenings once she has gone to bed.
    I think that for some people it may be more difficult,for example if they don’t have the support or finance for nursery fees etc. however your children will go to school once they are 3 or 4 years old and if you have the urge to create within you, it won’t just disappear. Where theres a will, theres a way.
    I think that the problem we are left with is why this is an issue for mothers but not for fathers?

    • Hi Katie,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. It is so inspiring to hear from someone who has managed to find that balance in life, and you have made a very good point about the gap that still remains between what is expected from mothers as opposed to fathers. Finding time for work and family should be equally important to all parents!

      If you would be interested in sharing more, we think our readers would find it quite interesting to hear about the way you have managed to blend your art, schooling and home life together. We can imagine there are many other mothers (and fathers!) out there who would finding inspiration in hearing a real-life success story. Please send us an email if you would like to chat more!

      All the best,
      The Paperblanks® Team

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