The Motherhood Discourse


There is a narrative in the professional world of art that equates choosing to be a mother with losing influence and relevance. 51% of visual artists today are women, including half of the granted MFAs in the USA.* However, the representation of women in museums, biennials, or the art market is well documented to be strikingly less than that percentage. (Click on the above graph to see more facts and figures.) For many powerful art professionals, motherhood is perceived as a detour from success.

I am getting ready to have another baby, which means I am getting ready to be sleepless, busy, or loving one more person. My air space is thick with thoughts about whether or not having a third child will tank my career (or my brain). I don’t perceive motherhood as a fatal flaw, but I also do not deny the stigma. The statistics and chatter say there is less room for me in my professional world because of my family choices. These influential female artists recently commented on children or work or both in recent articles that are capturing this buzz:

“There are good artists that have children. Of course there are,” she said. “They are called men.” -Marina Abramovic in Marina Abramovic: I Had Three Abortions Because Children Hold Female Artists Back by G. Voien

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.” –Why can’t great artists be mothers? by J. Urist

“In the art world, this belief is embodied in stereotyped notions of the artist as genius. A persistent trope, the artist genius is also always assumed to be childless just as art making is portrayed to be an all consuming undertaking antithetical to childrearing. The childless artist is center stage among the handful of contemporary women art stars.” -Home Affairs
Arzu Ozkal, Claudia Costa Pederson, Nanette Yannuzzi

“When I was first getting started, a male museum curator counseled me not to have kids. He said I would never be successful if I had them. I was incensed. But if you define success as a race to the top he was right” -says Greta Pratt in “On being an artist and a mother – a conversation” for LBM

“…the assumption (let’s call it a bias) is that artists who have a day job are not serious enough to be represented by the more “serious” galleries.” -Ed Winkleman questions the bias in “Art Artists with Day Jobs Serious?”

“In my experience,” she says, “it’s still a choice that people feel they have to make, the choice of: Can you continue to be taken seriously as an artist and be a mother? That’s not a foregone conclusion in any way.” –Lenka Clayton tells Artsy in “Can You be a Mother and Still be a Successful Artist?”

“LoVid shows their family as a necessary and important part of their practice, rather than a nuisance that should be avoided.” writes M. Borgen in “On the Parent-Shaped Hole in the Art World.”

“But what do mothers really do? They nurture and educate other people. Like artists and curators they give them a piece of their minds and, sometimes, their bodies.” -Lise Haller Baggesen’s thesis abstract for “Mothernism” 

The Guerrilla Girls reframe the question: “Why haven’t there been more great women artists throughout Western history?” Instead, they ask: “Why haven’t more women been considered great artists throughout Western history?” -from the National Museum of Women in the Arts

The fault, dear brothers, lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education … everything that happens to us from the moment we enter this world of meaningful symbols, signs and signals. by Linda Nochlin from 1971 


I’m taking the next few weeks to pause from writing, researching, and making in my studio to wait for and care for a new person. Having a third child will change my life, but I do not know how.   Sharing art with my children has caused me to expect more out of art and work. As they change my world, they are also raising my standards. We will still be searching for art together, and I will start writing again in 2017. See you then.


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