life as an artist/parent

by     /    June 30, 2007   

My art group was recently talking about how having kids impact your art career, and Cynthia described it really well:

“It requires discipline and a letting go of whatever idea that you have in your head about what being an artist is all about.”

Trying to be a professional artist while raising a family, especially with young kids and babies, is a challenge. The romantic notions of life of an artist — spending every waking moment making art, attending shows, and hobnobbing with the art scene — takes a backseat to the more practical concerns of sleep schedules, diaper changes, and the eternal stress of trying to make a living. I came into my art career late in life, leaving my job as a creative director just a couple years before my wife and I started a family. So my growth as an artist has gone hand in hand with my growth as a father. Even the style of the art I create has been framed by the needs of family life. One of the main reasons I primarily photograph dried leaves and plants is because it is something I can do in my home studio (which is above the play room), and easily step away from whenever my son wants to play.

However the limitations on my time can be frustrating. I have so many goals and plans, but only so much time or energy. I’ve had to give up classes and workshops because they were too far from my family. Even one photo shoot can get spread out over days, or even weeks, filled with contant interruptions and little emergencies. And macro photography, where the slightest vibration can blur your subject, gets challenging when your three-year old is stomping around below you. But these limitations have also been the source of inspiration for some of my best work. The slower pace gives me the time to really concentrate on a subject. And knowing I may be interrupted at any time forces me to quickly focus my attention. I just try to remind myself that life as an artist/parent is a balance of priorities. This means that my career will develop slower, and success (whatever that may be) will come later. But that’s ok. At least it’ll be more fun getting there.

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Comments on 'life as an artist/parent'

Paul Grecian  (June 30th, 2007):

Daniel,

I think you verbalize the position I am in and my approach to the duality of fatherhood and artist very well. It’s especially interesting, your comments about how fatherhood has shaped your art. My work tends to be close to home for the same reasons and my show selections are equally impacted. But as you point out, we are not always aware of the benefits that these limitations impart. In my case, I would probably not been able to rationalize a career move to full-time artist if I did not have a daughter that needed a parent at home. I would have likely put that move off for several years.

cynthia  (July 2nd, 2007):

Having a child/ren and crafting an art career is a matter of perfecting a balancing act. Not impossible – but with a steep learning curve.

I recently applied for a “real job” – lured by a steady income, health insurance and a 401k. When I told my husband and daughter they both said the same thing – “We’re fine just the way we are. Why are you stressing about this?” My daughter specifically told me, “She would miss me” – I wouldn’t be there to pick her up from school, to help her with her homework/projects, to chaperone field trips and to take her to her swim lessons. I’ve thought about it and really our kids actually live with us for a very short time. My daughter will be out of the house in 9 years, in which time, this time period will be forgotten.

But, in the mean time, my theme song is Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky, it’s tricky, it’s tricky – tricky – tricky!”

Rebecca  (November 23rd, 2007):

Just reading through a few of your past posts, Daniel, and had to comment on this one with perspective from the far side of the issue–my two boys are in college now. They came along shortly after I got my MFA, and I kept at my work when they were little, which sounds pretty much like your own situation–it takes a lot of flexibility and not giving up. As they got a little older they learned to respect my need for studio time and to take on some things at home when I traveled. So it was like I had any other job, in a way. But they also got to see up close what I did, and they were always welcome into the studio, and did some pretty interesting work of their own at times. And they always did inspire me and influence my work in subtle ways.

Now my older son, a writer, is one of my best supporters and valued critics–he has an eye I truly respect and when he looks at my work and talks about it I always learn something. And my younger son is getting a degree in ceramics and has taught me things about clay and processes I knew little about.

I did not imagine or predict how much they would end up giving back to me when they grew up. It’s amazing! Your kids will grow up in a fertile, creative environment and will always feel that influence. I’m all for living in the present, and enjoying those early years–but on those days when dealing with it all gets a little rough, maybe it’s nice to imagine a time when they will really appreciate what you do, and you can sit and talk about art and photography as adults.

Daniel Sroka  (November 23rd, 2007):

Thanks Rebecca, it’s nice to hear that perspective! Whether my kids grow up to be artists or engineers, I hope they learn to always seek out the creative potential in their lives.

Rebecca  (November 23rd, 2007):

Oh yeah I realize I forgot to say, I never expected them or tried to influence them to be artists, what ever they ended up with was and is fine with me–In fact my older son did start out in an engineering program! Creativity emerges in many forms.

Daniel Sroka  (November 23rd, 2007):

Creativity emerges in many forms.

Very true. One of the greatest pleasures I have from running my own art-oriented business is that it lets me express all facets of my creativity, including such “non-art” things like coding databases, and scripting webpages.

Rebecca  (November 23rd, 2007):

The most basic description of creativity I can think of is the capacity to make things happen. Not just to make them happen at all, but to make them happen better, or more efficiently, or expressively, or effectively, or whatever. So to me it plays into just about any occupation or endeavor I can think of (–including parenting, of course..!)