There exists this myth in the art world that you can either choose to be an artist, or you can choose to be a functioning member of society––but you can't be both. Because of this stigma, somewhere along the line society decided that raising children is basically the antithesis to creativity (which is really so silly, because children are the most creative of all of us).
Making the choice to have children––particularly for women––is oftentimes considered a death sentence for one's artistic career. But why, exactly? While choosing the path of an artist may not align with a typical 9 to 5 schedule––what with all those late nights in the studio and the sex and drugs and rock-and roll lifestyle (this is sarcastic, if you didn't pick up on it)––that doesn't mean that you can't do normal-people things, like raising childing if that's something you want to do! Imagine that!
Becoming a parent is a life-changing experience––(for anyone! Not just artists!)––full of joys and frustrations alike. Ultimately, there is no singular manual on parenthood that holds all of the secrets to success. Parenthood is about learning to adapt; opening yourself up to learning new things and seeing new perspectives; and watching and encouraging someone to grow and explore the world. If you think about it, the practice is actually deeply aligned with making art. You take each moment as it comes.
We spoke with a number of working artists who are also new parents, and they shared their wisdom on the realities of balancing being an artist and a parent. So whether you're an artist thinking about whether or not to take the leap into parenthood, or are a new parent trying to figure out how to make your art practice adapt to your new life, take a hint from these experts.
On Maintaining a Studio Practice
Pro Tip: The name of the game is flexibility. Open yourself up to adapting to a new schedule, and don't beat yourself up for missing studio time.
“Time management is the big issue. There are no all-nighters anymore. There are no art binges anymore (I'm so glad). I have less time for my own subjective pursuits; no doubt. That said, I have (in retrospect) found having a different set of concerns coming into my creative life to be a healthy sense of meaning. It has brought me a lot of clarity about what is important to me in general and that has given me clarity about what I should be doing as an artist.” - Grayson Cox, a New York-based artist and father of a 4 ½ year old.
“Be kind to yourself. It's ok to take a break from your studio and parent. It can still be there when you're ready and it doesn't mean you're not an artist.” - Ada Potter, New York-based artist and mother of a 16-month old.
"The main difficulty has been finding time to work in the studio. Gone are the long, all-night marathons or the uninterrupted eight hour stretches on a Saturday afternoon. Now I get little pockets of time here and there to work. But, oddly, this disruption of time has made my time much more productive. Time is more valuable... there is almost this mantra of 'use it or lose it' in my head when I'm working." - Ryan Lauderdale, New York-based artist and father of a 1 1/2 year old.
On Adapting to a New Schedule and Missing Events and Openings
Pro Tip: You won't make it to as many shows––but you'll be inspired in different ways.
“Becoming a parent makes everything more clear and makes art even more important in the grand scheme of things. But it’s also difficult; forget about reading and going to shows––at least for a period.” - Julie Grosche, New York-based artist and mother of a 2 1/2 year old.
"Going to openings feels very important to me. I want to show up for people and just show my face and remind other artists and curators that I'm still around, but with a child I'm exhausted at the end of the day and I just haven't been able to figure out how to start showing up again." - Ada Potter
On Discovering New Perspectives and Alternative Methods of Creating
Pro Tip: Becoming a parent changes your perspective on a lot of things––so it makes sense that one's work would evolve. Go with the flow.
"For me, having a kid unlocked a dormant, and largely inchoate emotional reserve. The alchemy of a new neuro-potion sloshing around in the brain creating a parent-child bond is, of course as common as it is ancient––but to feel it happening in your own body is wild. It's unique among all the different kinds of love I’ve experienced. As someone that never imagined life as a parent, I find the experience of being one, and one that is also an artist, exciting. Somewhere in our job descriptions as artists we might say we’re chroniclers of experience, however we chose to modulate it––our own lives, our identity, our interests and ideas, our here-and-now moment. In this sense, it would be crazy, and for me impossible, to deny these energies from finding a pathway into my work." - Michael Jones McKean, New York-based artist and father of a 2 1/2 year old.
"When he was born I was flooded by a wave of empathy, my relation to the world totally changed, and I had to upgrade my operating system. My last work is a conversation between two animated characters: one, a mother who transmits information to the second one, a child-like figure. Slowly the mother starts singing using a thousand-years-old way of communicating, teaching, and soothing. I have to admit that I’m not much of a singing mother but becoming a mother inscribed me in the tradition of transmission of knowledge and of love, which I never thought about before. It's something that connects me to all other humans but also other species in a biological and emotional way." - Julie Grosche
"I have a deeper understanding of performance works which deal in a serious way with soft labor. I understand why these works are so important. My aesthetic sensibilities haven’t changed, I’m still the same artist, making as many mistakes as ever." - Lyndsy Welgos, artist and founder of Topical Cream, and mother of a 1 1/2 year old.
"I think being a parent has made me more compassionate and made me see my own judgments and prejudices more clearly. Before I had a child I thought I was generally aware and open-minded about motherhood. When I'd read about or see a parenting choice that I conceptually didn't quiet like, in my head I'd say 'Oh ok, that's not for me but no judgement.' But I would simultaneously be totally judging that parent. For example, seeing a parent bargain with their tantrum-ing toddler. I thought I could do it better. I thought I wasn't, but I really was, being very critical. When I became a mother and did some of those things I had internally dismissed I realized how I just didn't understand before. This is a long-winded way of saying being a parent made me realize how short sighted my own perspective really is. This has subtly entered my practice. I think I'm more forgiving and accepting of myself." - Ada Potter
"I would say being a parent has given me a big dose of self-assuredness about my work. I'm not so worried about what people think anymore... and, more importantly, my ideas aren't swayed by the perceived expectations of an audience. I feel like this has allowed me to get deeper into the ideas." - Ryan Lauderdale
On Finding a Solid Support System
Pro Tip: Don't be afraid to ask for help.
"I want to shout out to all the single friends who help their parent friends; they are indeed the unsung heroes of parenthood in New York that no one gives proper credit. These caregivers deserve a word higher than "friend." Those who babysit while you run an errand––they are the ones who make it possible." - Lyndsy Welgos
"I am lucky to have a supportive partner and community to collaborate with that don't see cultural validity through a tired old rock-and-roll, dead-by-27 cliche. We are trying to work half time (meaning, splitting the time as equally as possible between partners) and doing what we can to find meaning and present our findings." - Grayson Cox
On Adapting to a New Financial Situation
Pro Tip: If things aren't working––consider changing your perspective and your surroundings.
"Once we found out we were going to have a family, it became clear that NYC was not sustainable. Just the cost of childcare was enough for us to hightail it upstate. I think my art-practice would have completely vanished if I had stayed in the city with a kiddo. So that was the biggest adaptation, and its been almost completely a positive transformation. I miss the openings, the film screenings, and the parties... but, being up here with my family has allowed me to get more lost in my own ideas/work than ever before. Also, trees." - Ryan Lauderdale
On Facing the Stigmas that "Artists Can't be Parents"
Pro Tip: Ignore the haters. There is no standard way to raise a child, nor is there a standard way to be a successful artist. Find what works for you.
"I don’t believe that the problem comes from women with children but from the structure of the art world (the world) itself. Women with children, or not, are always at a disadvantage. At my level, I don’t think it has impacted my career. I have heard hurtful things, friends stating an imminent failure if not already present, curators talking over me... but I think it has worked the other way around as well, having people include me to support me because I am a mother. I have to say that from the minute I learned I was pregnant, I was terrified of how the art world was going to brand me. I work very hard at proving that it’s possible to do both and so far things are better than before. In some ways I have to be a better artist, to be a better parent and show my child a positive image of myself." - Julie Grosche
"There is a long history of men artists that happen to have kids and it's not even something that seems to be discussed at all. For mothers, however, there is this deep stigma... and this isn't just an art world thing. Mothers brush up against prejudice from the get go. I have heard countless stories about women in professional/corporate settings that are essentially punished for having kids. Silicon valley encouraging their female employees to freeze their eggs so their productive careers aren't interrupted by pesky babies, etc. There is a latent misogyny in all of that. A father's productivity is ironically never in question. It's an idiotic double standard. It's definitely a sacrifice, but parenthood doesn't have to ontologically define you. Most creative parents I have talked to seem to get back to working full-steam fairly quick. The little one grows and becomes more and more independent, and you figure out how to do the things you need to do within the new reality that is your life." - Ryan Lauderdale.
On the Magic and Joy of Becoming a Parent That Makes It All Worth It
Pro Tip: When the going gets tough––return to the simple joys of watching your child grow and explore the world.
"Watching a tiny little blob of flesh morph and grow into a complex, emotional, funny, trusting, loving independent being is literally a spiritual experience. I used to roll my eyes when people would talk about 'the miracle of life' but it turns out that shit is real. Being an artist and being interested in human thought, it seems almost necessary to experience and partake in." - Ryan Lauderdale