Taking Custody: The Double Life of the Artist Mother

Taking Custody: The Double Life of the Artist Mother

SVA Panel Discussion - 10.16.12

 Elizabeth Hamby Melissa Marks-artist Miranda Pierce Renee Cox and Katherine Bernhardt SVA



Is it possible to be both a mother and a commercially viable artist? Such was the subject of the round table discussion at SVA on October 16, entitled "Taking Custody: The Double Life of the Artist Mother".

The discussion was moderated by Sharon L. Butler and included SVA alumni Renee Cox, Katherine Bernhardt, Suzanne McClelland, Rachel Papo, and Amy Stein, along with current faculty member Danica Phelps.

The panel of successful women covered topics such as how to handle a residency, at what point in your career to have your child, and the horrors of moving to the suburbs.

"My advice is to have children," said Papo. "Because you're going to get to a point in your career where you get bored, and then you won't have any children."

"Just do it when you need to do it, Cox agreed. "You don't need to ask permission."

Cox went on to describe the negative reaction she got after she enrolled in graduate school while expecting her second child.

"People looked at me and said 'Your career is over' and I was like, it didn't even start! The first thing I did was a sculpture of myself at eight months pregnant with my hand on my hip like so what?'"

Time and again during the discussion, the women came back to the same subject: it is possible to be an artist and a mother, but it's certainly not easy.

"I was asked what I wanted for mother's day," said Butler. "I said, I just really want to spend the day in the studio!"

Later, the panel took questions from the audience. Many women in attendance seemed in awe, and lamented their personal struggle to create while caring for their children. They came looking for solutions, but the answer they received was not a simple one. If you want something in life, you have to work really, really hard for it.

"I was absolutely determined to continue as I had before and it worked," said Phelps.

One audience member wanted to know how she could possibly continue to be a street photographer in sketchy areas of New York while caring for a child.

"Our lives inform our work," said Butler. "Don't think of art and life as being separate. Lately, I've been going to a lot of softball games. There's always something you can use later."

Papo agreed that she no longer travels long distances for projects, and her work is now mostly local. "You adapt," she said.

Amy Stein joked that any project she wants to undertake now has a price tag attached to it. "We have a nanny, and it's expensive," she said. "I'm constantly weighing her hourly fee against everything I want to do. She easily makes more than I do!"

Each of the seven mothers on stage had one thing in common: giving up their career simply wasn't an option.

"If I want to continue living, I need to continue making art," said Papo. "So I'm not going to quit. Whatever it takes, I'm going to do."


- Kyria Abrahams

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