Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflection: Art and Motherhood

The week off has been good for my writing, and for the Christmas projects, now almost done, Yarrow's red dress is only waiting for embellishment. I drove everywhere Friday, picking up the meat, storing it, bringing my husband to and from work, yet somehow I spent most of the day in happy ignorance. When I learned what had happened I was overwhelmed. My prayers go out for all those poor babies, their families, and for the killer.  I was more than usually grateful for my quiet home, for a weekend - extended by storms through Tuesday,  for the wood piled high beside my stove, and for lots of time to think.
In times of reflection, I often retreat into Rilke whose poetry captures so perfectly all the nuances of the soul.  Rilke, who believed that women artists should forego motherhood for the sake of their art, that the creation of art was incompatible with motherhood. I've been thinking of this often - he believed this, primarily because he saw motherhood itself as an artistic path, and felt that each artist must commit himself (or herself in this case) to a path without dividing the creative passion. It is one of the reasons he also struggled with faith.
I can see the either/or aspects of art in motherhood, but I think there is room for them to coexist. The artistic life is a challenge to anyone who pursues it. Unmarried, an artist has more freedom and fewer distractions than married - if like a priest he is able to give his art a position of primacy. Married, the artist has more to overcome: I know that one of my primary distractions is my housekeeping. I don’t like to work, and often I can’t work when things are out of place. Some days the house is a constant frustration, failing my ideal again and again until it’s time to make dinner and go to bed - unorganized firewood really shouldn’t prevent me from working, but too often it does, and once the firewood has been rearranged, the bits of wood need to be swept up, and then the rugs should be shaken out, and then the disorder of the yard comes to my attention, until the stove needs to be tended again - leaving tiny bits of wood on the floor again and leading me to notice that the walls really are dirty…

Motherhood, of course adds to the distractions of the married artist - now in addition to this particular artist's intense dislike of mess, there is a mess-making little one: destroying the neatly swept piles of tiny wood-bits, delighting in destruction, and encouraging the dog in her evil tendencies - Rilke never mentions the effects of a dog on the artist, he should have, they’re even more distracting - children may possible nap or play quietly at the right time, a dog is designed by nature to discover a menace hiding in the trees every time the artist settles down to work.

I do think that Rilke missed the art producing aspects of motherhood. The inspiration children bring, and the possibility that each daily task - whether mothering or straightening the rugs which the dog insists on putting out of order - is capable of producing beauty, nourishing the artist’s other children : her poems or pots, canvases or stories. It may be that I just don’t like seeing limitations in life but I believe that art and life and faith all feed each other, and I hope that, while I may lose the moments that might have been spent writing or throwing feeding croissant dough to Yarrow, who can’t help but share with Luba, the long, lovely days when nothing is written are more creative than all the hours spent scribbling when I was single and free to ignore everything for the sake of a line.
Any thoughts of your own to share?


  1. Hi Masha,

    I am a lurker on your blog. I arrived here via Jenna probably a year ago. I love today's reflection, as a new mother to an almost 5 month old. I wanted to add and expand on your thoughts, which I generally tend to agree on in this. I was once a "public" artist in the traditional sense, in this case a theatre actor and singer (in my high school and undergraduate years). After college, though, I was moved to shift paths a bit and instead become a librarian, which is the professional vocation in which I now exercise my creative, performative capacities. I do, however, still sing, but the setting is not "public" in the way acting on the stage was: I have been a choir singer in my church (Orthodox, in the Russian tradition--OCA if you're aware of such designations) since becoming Orthodox 7 years ago. It is my one purely creative outlet, in terms of creating something whose sole "purpose" is beauty.

    But, anyway back to your post today--since having my daughter (who we'll call Bookie, a loving nickname I have now adopted for her in my blogging ventures), I have been especially reflective on the ways in which motherhood feeds my work as a librarian (which is its own kind of art in my view, but I digress), and vice versa. I wanted to propose that, in addition to all you've said here, I believe for the mother who seeks to make her life an organic whole, not only are motherhood and work (whether it be artistic or otherwise) able to coexist, but both will always be enhanced by the other. I do think it takes a kind of awareness/consciousness of the two and how they interact in one's life, for the organic whole to come to be.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share my thoughts since you asked at the end of your post. Thank you for your words--like with Jenna's, I always enjoy the glimpses into your domestic life and how they interact with your artistic tendencies...and Yarrow is super adorable as well. :) Cheers!


    1. Donna,

      Thank you for such a delightful response! I agree completely, and maybe this is actual what Rilke is missing - the idea of life as an organic whole, in which art is fed by life and life by art, until they merge together in a way, and you can't quite tell where one ends and the other begins..

      Thanks for joining in, and I'm glad you enjoy the domestic-life posts, they're always my favorite in other peoples' blogs, but I always worry they're boring in my own :)


  2. This is something that has weighted heavily on me as well. Like you, I understand where Rilke is coming from. I do really believe motherhood is an artistic path. It pains me how much modern society sees it as just another thing to check off the list: dog, cat, house with a front porch, white picket fence, climbing the corporate ladder, vacation home in Florida, oh, and a baby . . . When really, the child should come before all those things, and if any one of them is an obstacle to motherhood, we should at least be willing to do away with them if need be.

    But I don't think vocations have to be mutually exclusive. It is harder to have more than one, but it is possible. There has to be some way to synthesize them, and of course faith added to anything makes it that much more potent.

    There's the idea that experience makes one a better writer, and what is motherhood if not _the_ experience? There will always be those scholar-types that sigh and say, "Think what she could have been capable of if she had given herself wholly to her art?" I'm not so much worried about that (ha!) as I am about the opposite, that my son will have memories of days when I didn't go out to the park and play with him because I had a few spare hours and needed to edit for a deadline or get something down before I forgot it. But as for that, I believe (I hope!) God is reassuring me in a personal way.

  3. Christie,

    Happy New Year! I know what you mean, about worrying that I will be remembered as the mother who gave her spare hours to her typewriter and not her child, but I think that - in a 'balancing' sort of way, there is a lot of good for the child in seeing her mother nourish other passions as well..not to the exclusion of the child but alongside - mutual vocations within a hierarchy..If that makes sense. But I think it's something that does need continual revisiting, like most things in life - our balance of vocations needs to be tested constantly and always in pursuit of sanctity..Fantastic thoughts!