These are six 5x7 texture studies I created in August based off of several visual samples of tree bark I found at local Arvada parks...small works, but these pieces hold enormous significance for me.
I've been largely--almost entirely--absent from creating my own art (and from this, my own website and blog) for over three years, with the last work of mine that I would consider to be significant being completed in early 2015. Long-time readers, friends, and family will immediately sync this date up with another one of great significance in my life: the adoption of teenage daughters, who moved into our home in January 2015. I've been tumbling into motherhood ever since, struggling to find a balance or a grasp on how to be both artist and mother, creative and caregiver.
As a young adult, my future as a woman was shaped in my brain through two sticky images. The first, a passage from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, which I read in high school:
"Now I see the shifting, how the stacks of books on my parents’ bedside table changed from catalogs for local colleges, encyclopedias of mythology, novels by James Eliot, and Dickens, to the works of Dr. Spock. Then came gardening books and cookbooks until for her birthday two months before I died, I thought the perfect gift was Better Homes and Gardens Guide to Entertaining."
And the second image: Lick and Lather, a brilliant work by artist Janine Antoni. I first became aware of the piece when, during my Sophomore year of college, my Contemporary Art History professor showed us an interview with Antoni on the PBS show Art21: Art in the 21st Century, and I later saw the work at the Denver Art Museum. Much of Antoni's work contemplates the roles of women in her life and lineage, roles of women in society, and the role of woman as mother. In Lick and Lather, Antoni created a number of self-portrait busts; half in chocolate, half in soap. Antoni washed herself with herself and fed herself with herself. Through these foundations of motherhood--the washing and the feeding of children--Antoni softened her own visage, the act of mothering slowly erasing the edges of her identity.
From these images I created a deeply flawed anticipation of what being a "good mother" would demand; the willing, setting-aside of my own interests and passions in favor of parenting children, and the slow dismantling and softening of my individual, unique self into a blurry averaging of all good mothers. This felt consistent to the mothers I knew--namely, the mothers of friends, who, with rare exception, I simply pasted over with a "good mother" trope, too self-conscious and preoccupied in my teenage mind and body to notice that mothers were interesting and individual human beings (this is a great sadnesses of my youth, that I indeed pasted over my own mother as well, unaware that she must have passions and interests other than caring for her self-absorbed children, and that only once did I recognize the mother of a friend as someone to consider as a role model, mentor, or friend when I was young).
I felt prepared, in this way, for becoming a mother myself. I was ready to set aside my individuality. I was happy for it, eager to do it. I felt like I understood the sacrifice.
But I was so wrong, of course. Of course I was wrong. Of course mothers can also be artists, be independent, be anything. I was bought into the incorrect social idea that to be a good mom, you can be good at nothing else.
I am still trying to figure out my balance, get my bearings, merge this dangerous image of "good mother" with my own identity. It isn't either-or, and it isn't an overlapping either; I simply am Emily Grace King, and I also am a mother. And an artist. And a wife. And a sister. And a daughter. And a citizen. And a community member. And an industrious worker. And a writer, and a comedian, and an organizer, and an inventor, and a homemaker, and a decorator, and a million other things even sillier than these to name.
I read once that Marina Abramović said that mothers couldn't be artists, stating "of course I know parents who are good artists. They're all men." And something feels true to my own identity in that: it would not be possible for me to be my (society's?) twisted image of a good artist and also be this good mother; my ideas of each are so screwed up. A good mother does every single thing for the direct benefit of her family (includes emotional labor, permanent smiling, cleaning). A good artist does every single thing for the direct benefit of her art (includes reckless spontaneity, wallowing, drugs). I wanted to dive wholly into either/or, thinking it impossible to be successful at both, and finding neither to be very appealing. My generation was told we could be anything we wanted, but I didn't understand that we could also be anything in whatever way we wanted at any given moment.
Since becoming a mother, I have maintained a busy docket of creative projects but did not prioritize my own work. No--that is an excuse, really. I was blocked creatively, spending energy and time on many perceived and invented necessities. Even after I finished building the studio, even after other life events freed up my time and my energy, I made excuses for myself to not make art. I started Art Drop Arvada in order to connect with other artists and do something fun and cool for the community--and probably to keep myself from having to create my own work, too. I was in a place of fear, terrified of my own vulnerability, scared that I would really try to "be an artist" and fail, fear of my work being rejected, fear that I would never feel successful at it. And due to my embedded beliefs about motherhood, I also felt that if I chose to take energy away from my family in order to pursue my art, I better be a good, successful artist--otherwise my time and energy as an artist would be wasted, stolen from my family.
But recently I started on a creative recovery, fueled by contact with people who are relentlessly creative and the creations of those people (and the foundational support of Dave, who in incessant in encouraging me to pursue every weird idea I have in my head). I serendipitously found The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, a book that was recommended to me many times over the years but never picked up, until I stumbled on it at the library's fill-a-bag-for-$6 book sale. I've been following the course in The Artist's Way, which promises to unblock and recharge, creating a practice of feeding the creative child inside of the artist.
And it is working...slowly. Even after doing this very intentional creative recovery for two months, I had yet to create anything. Then, through a partnership with the City of Arvada and Art Drop Arvada, I had the opportunity to use my local park as inspiration to create new works, then hide them in the park for art treasure hunters to find (if this sounds confusing to you, check out Art Drop Arvada and it will all make sense). I made these six studies based on the varying textures of tree bark. It felt really, really good. And then I made two slightly larger studies. And then the Arvada Center announced its open call for their triennial Art of the State show and I thought I could enter that, so I started a large painting to submit.
Creation begets creation. I am starting to find a balance, and I have some momentum now. I am reframing what "success"--as a mother, and as an artist, as a whole Emily person--means for me.