A mother and an artist?

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I keep hearing this same thing.

The very best part about having an art gallery is all the people I’ve been privileged to meet. This tiny space in this tiny town has hosted some great conversations, and there’s one that keeps happening. On several occasions, women I’ve been chatting with have told me that they used to make art but then gave it up to raise their children. 

I started making art seriously after I became a mom, so my first impulse is always to be frustrated at the suggestion that art-making and mothering are mutually exclusive. 

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was not motherhood that launched me into art, it was divorce.

Let me explain…

I had so long worshiped an idol someone else had carved. It was shaped with firm expectations and unforgiving lines around what a family should look like. When the idol shattered, the creative forces in me longed to make something out of the shards and from the dust. What would I worship instead of “should”? What would bless me if not my own ability to match what I’d idealized? I was saved from such smallness by a God who taught me that love, the true ideal, is bigger than the structures into which we think it ought to exclusively fit. In large part, making art was my way of re-understanding the world without the safety of my idols, all my “oughts,” my richness of “shoulds”. Blessed are the poor. 

It is typically a fruitless game to play what would have happened if, but I think had I not gone through a divorce and everything that followed, I would be the kind of woman to happen upon an art gallery and in the midst of conversation mention that I once painted but gave it up to raise my children. So my frustration then is not that the story is so absurd; it is too familiar. It hits too close to home. It so very easily could have been. And to think of my life without the art that enlivens it retroactively terrifies me.

Bigger, Truer Stories

Here’s what I want to say to that all-too-real version of me and, not to all the women who’ve talked to me about this, but to the ones with palpable regret in their voices: what if we lived in a world where you could make things– beautiful, messy things, expressive, holy things, things that require your full attention and focus, your whole self–  without being or feeling any less to those you love? 

When the demands of others are greatest, is that not when we most need to tap into our own strength and creativity so as not to get irrevocably lost in a world that has already so sharply defined us? What if we lived in communities and in families whose visions of us were broad enough to include a variety of important roles? What if being a good mother meant not only nurturing our children but also our own most precious longings?

I’m trying to envision a world where catastrophe wasn’t the only possible catalyst for my creativity, and I’m finding it difficult. But what if it weren’t?

My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about the limiting stories we tell ourselves. “I need a new story,” is our current refrain when work or life or schedules feel most frustrating. What we mean, I think, is that we need a truer, bigger story. What if I’ve been seeing this too small? What if I need to expand? 

What about now?

What I really long to say at the end of these conversations at the gallery is what about now? Will you return to your art-making now? Is there a story that keeps it at bay even now that the kids are grown? Has the I-don’t-make-art-anymore story been so ingrained in you that to challenge it feels blasphemous? What new, truer, story is big enough to hold you, all of you?

As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts. 

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Denise Hopkins

December 8, 2022

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  1. I know this has noting to do with what you’re talking about in this post, Denise! Nevertheless, I wanted to share that I met a bunch of interesting people in Belize, and I got to talk photography a great, including with a fellow (portrait) photographer I met while snorkeling! I passed on the story of Picasso saying “no, that took my entire life” to one lovely person while we were chatting about what people seem willing to pay for art.

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