Friday, November 25, 2011

Rachel Power introduces the Mother Artist Network

Bravery is... letting curiosity and wonder overtake fear.
                                           Imagination is... a place without boundaries.
Generosity is... the source of everything good in this world. (Rachel Power)

The Mother Artist Network is a place that invites BIG ideas and discussion about creative practice and motherhood. Through a forum of ongoing blog posts the MAN will feature voices of mother-artists at all stages of artistic engagement and motherhood. It will feature you. How is your creative practice propelled and challenged by being a mother? We very much hope you will contribute to the conversation by commenting below or emailing us to add your story to the mix.   

The world of  creating while mothering is a particular navigation and one that Rachel Power generously exposes in her remarkable book The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood. As a fan of Rachel's work it is an absolute pleasure to welcome her here to launch our BIG MAN.  Enjoy, and thank you Rachel for opening the door for us. 

Rachel Power and son Griffin 
Bravery is... when you do something scary.
                                              Imagination is... making up mythical things like dragons.
Generosity is... giving away something of your own. (Griffin, aged 9)

Having my first child, almost ten years ago now, marked the beginning of my ongoing struggle to reconcile my creative and maternal ‘selves’. Writing seemed so frivolous and indulgent compared to the solid, important work of raising a child. How could I justify time spent away from my baby — and the relentless demands of household maintenance — to pursue something with no clear outcomes or economic rewards?

It didn’t help that my years of studying art history, with its focus on European males (not all white, but mostly dead), had sold me the Romantic myth of “the artist” as tortured, self-obsessed genius with no option but to damage those closest to them. While motherhood was calling on me to find ever-greater resources of patience and selflessness, art felt like an opposing force — an uncompromising, masculine domain.

I began searching for examples of Australian women who were managing to maintain their artistic careers amid the claims and chaos of family life. I felt like I could barely string two words together let alone attempt a whole novel, and was beginning to fear that I didn’t have what it takes to demand all that I needed to demand of myself, and of everyone around me, in order to keep writing.

Poet and academic Susan Rubein Suleiman said something that still rings true for me:
“Any mother of young children … who wants to do serious creative work — with all that such work implies of the will to self-assertion, self-absorption, solitary grappling — must be prepared for the worst kind of struggle, which is the struggle against herself.”

As my kids get older, I still don't find it any easier to withdraw from them; to make myself 'unavailable' in the way writing seems to require. As I wrote in my book, The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood, no amount of money, no amount of structural change, can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artist–mother: the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart; a split self; the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other.

Since publishing The Divided Heart, people often ask me what I learned from the process. All of the women I interviewed offered pearls of wisdom that return to me all the time, but the overarching lesson was this:  

Women need to give themselves permission to be an artist (or creative person of any kind). No one else is going to give you that permission. A woman needs to stake a claim in her own heart and mind for her right to make art. For mothers, this means carving out time, against all odds, to devote to a creative practice — because it’s the thing that connects us to ourselves and to the world. Art is not a mere indulgence.

Perhaps if the Mother Artist Network (MAN) existed when my kids were babies, I may not have needed to write such a book. Back then, it seemed almost impossible to find Australian voices addressing the specific complexities of combining art and motherhood — which of course inevitably means the often overwhelming intricacies of combining art, motherhood, relationships, paid work and the domestic load.

So it’s very exciting to be cracking the champagne bottle over the virtual bow of this new ship of ideas. If Lilly and Jo's glorious magazine project, BIG, is anything to go by, MAN promises to be an extraordinary forum for artists to share their experiences of navigating mothering and the creative process — a place to flee to when the littlies are finally asleep and you're in need of solace, inspiration and BIG ideas from kindred spirits.
Rachel's daughter, Freya
Bravery is... swimming in the deep end.
                                           Imagination is... dreaming when you're awake.
Generosity is... playing games you both want to do. (Freya, aged 6)


  1. Sign me up! I would love to participate in/lend support to a network of women like this. As a visual artist, I am somewhat (somewhat!) more free to combine child-minding with artistic production than a writer would be, but it is an ongoing challenge. Take, for example, this photo from a recent series I'm working on, which was made literally with three smalls howling for afternoon tea as I set up and took the shot: Keep me posted!

  2. I'd love to participate as well. I'd love to write a longer comment as well--but after getting four children off to school this morning, my almost two year old--still in her bed is now moaning...'Mummy, where are you...?'

    What email address should we send to?

  3. How to sign up? Would love to be a part of this!
    My son is my muse :) that's how I like to put it...though I haven't painted since he was born! But he is quite an artist himself, and I constantly derive my inspiration from his energy and spirit...


  4. I'm interested for sure! Also, I ADORE Freya's definitions of Bravery, Imagination and Generosity.

  5. Consider yourselves signed up! Email artwork/comments/thesis (lol!) to with MAN in the subject line and we will present MAN material in posts as part of the series.

    We are interested in work/questions/artwork that invite response and locate somehow in the 'divide' or otherwise of the ongoing mother dance. We are more than a bit excited about the Network and thrilled that you are here :)

    Alice - love your description of time-and-a-half mother (and your pics), Flannery - snap on the two year old call outs! Send us that (quick) email. Cheena - motherhood and the muse is a definite feature topic for response. Kate - so do we!

  6. This is incredible. I'm in the US but would love to contribute and feel so connected to the mission as a mother of two, especially with conservative family who has instituted the value of being solely a stay-at-home mother, it has been difficult to break out of my shell. I'm a writer and artist, and I too have been searching for women who were mothers and managed to maintain a career - I remember reading about Alice Neel leaving her toddlers outside while she painted, and reading Judy Chicago's quote "I, like many women of my generation, believe that motherhood is antithetical to the creative life," being crushed; can I be a good mother and good artist? Maybe not. But slowly/surely I'm giving myself permission to try... Thank you for doing what you do to prove this is true!!

  7. Hello,
    here in the uk, absolutely zombified by a week of nursing a very poorly little boy with an ear infection whilst caring for his baby brother too.
    However, I am so excited by bringing art into our lives. We even managed to paint stones together this week and to make up some paper gods on sticks...I've recently got my own little Fb page too, as a way to connect to the outside world as an artist, therefore somehow solidifying the notion that I will work.
    I love what you are doing. I am fascinated to hear that It's not just me. I stopped oil painting when I was first pregnant ...nearly 9 years ago! and I felt I had to hide it away, I was almost scared to do art as I couldn't risk the absorption and the disappointment of not being able to do it... but now with 2 kids I feel more determined to just wedge it all seems more possible, somehow. Or perhaps I realise that it's up to me to make it possible?
    Anyway I would love more info and connection

  8. I feel like I have lots to say and have thought tons about it. Do you want writing send directly to your email address? Lisa, Auckland


We love reading your BIG thoughts and really appreciate your comments, thank you!

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