How it can affect one creatively and practically?
The duality, artist and mother
How does a pregnancy and motherhood really affect creativity and even the conditions as a woman and artistic creation?
As an artist, you create your own conditions for a job, unless you are so established that the assignments roll in, which is a small per mille of the artist corps. Rarely do ready-made tasks with guaranteed payment await, or galleries that set deadlines and things a place for one. After a pregnancy – a highly individual experience, and then after a period of parental leave, often a year to a year and a half (in Sweden we have paid parental leave for about that time, but expected to be shared with your partner) also an individual experience – there is suddenly your own time to work again and how do you start then?
Can an artist take maternity leave? Really, getting in to Swedish ways, it’s so great to have paid maternity leave, though the income is based on your earnings.
*Artists are required to start upp small business to work/buy certain material in Sweden. And the income base is called SGI (sjuk grundande inkomstbas/illness based income base – I know, crazy translation!). For people with normal jobs it is based on your income pre-tax, but as a small business owner (artists) it is based on whatever you got left after paying social fees and tax approx. 40% of your earnings. And – artists are the highest educated people with the lowest income in Sweden. Hence the wide gap of re-entering work as an artist, can one afford getting back to ones practise after maternity leave? Or do you need to get a JOB asap? Stress about money might be norm for creatives, but when you have responsibility over a little one the scales of priorities do shift..
So back to the artisan for example, with all the tools and machines, where does one’s workshop go in the meantime? Both an unestablished and an established artist need to have a network to have discussions with and attend. Since a scholarship application or artist in residence is usually interned by the work of the last two years, it can be tough after a maternity leave to return to work again.
In addition, families are not welcome in most artists’ residences. And as a musician, then how does it work to tour, can a musician continue to establish himself during the toddler years? The question is big and deals with what our society looks like and how research around connection in interaction with what family life you live in, how you feel mentally and physically and your self-esteem and identity as a creator. This duel (yes it is experienced as a duel sometimes) live, to be creative and self-activated in your profession / life choice while going through a pregnancy, childbirth and maternity leave is not something that is appreciated directly in cultural contexts. Although the neurological, intellectual, biological and cultural changes of mothers are real.
2016 neuroscientist Elseline Hoekzema from Leiden University came out with data from her
1. X-ray study that proved a long-lasting effect on women’s brains after a pregnancy. A restructuring with significant changes that lead to a mass decay of gray matter. And the condition persists for at least two years after pregnancy, as long as the research handled the data.
The pregnancy hormone signals instead create a focused activity on the social cognitive part, an important function for creating a connection to the child, an ‘emotional reading’ or the maternal instinct as it is also called. The brain is restructured and thus creates a more defined focus on other places in the brain. This is a natural biological event that functions as a beneficial maturation process / specialisation before the actual change of becoming a parent.
This often affects the memory for the worse, the general social orientation ability and everything that seems to take the focus away from the child.
A similar systematisation of the brain has happened to everyone who undergoes the perspective-changing period of puberty between child and adult. Most people can relate to that.
Which groups do you have to be part of in order to be able to talk about both developing intellectual possibilities AND good manoeuvres in order to have time to send an important email, write an idea clearly and play hide and seek at the same time? Does it have to be in divided networks / even specific art formation?
It can be difficult to put yourself in someone else’s situation, especially if the needs are not specifically and explicitly communicated. It is often the obvious that should be better highlighted.
From the Artists’ Committee / Konstnärsnämndens 2. ‘Artistic quality with a democratic perspective’ also from 2016, regarding gender-integrated assessment of scholarships important questions are asked such as:
What voices are heard? Which perspectives benefit?
Whose creation is institutionalised and allowed to be part of our cultural heritage?
If you look at who meets and is most visible in cultural contexts, and whose opinions emerge. Then there is the question of how much is invested, financially or in terms of interest in female artists after they become mothers? For example, when the social media (which especially through the pandemic has functioned as the one way to get through of ones artistic expression) is filled with alternating images of art, inspiration and much, much of the child.
-Uh many moan and interest is phased out.
Is that so?
In a personal conversation with a Swedish New York based illustrator, it was revealed that she was advised not to have so many pictures of the children or home life on Instagram, as it could seem unprofessional and that sector division is preferred regarding the interest in her art versus her life as a mother . But is not that also what is liked? Being both nurturing and present in your family life and your art expression is awesome, to use an American strengthening word.
And it should not just be taken for granted, as so many female attributes actually do, because it is also exhausting to be a parent. Exhaustion and the change of identity should also be of interest in the expression of creation, right?
But through this project Mothers in Residence which much due to the pandemic developed through instagram in order to reach out and find artists, it is obvious that there are more and more people talking about this via social media. In the Gothenburg/south western region of Sweden alone, there are around three hundred artists who work with this subject in their creation, so the interest in motherhood itself seems interesting.
The adored and depicted Virgin Mary, and Louise Bourgeois’ spider work on the mother exists and is hailed, it must also be of a similar interest to see from a modern perspective? Personally, I get excited about Bourgeois’ work during her period of motherhood, with a woman carrying a house on her head.
Femme Maison, 1945-47. Louise Bourgeois
What is included, and what is prioritised to be expressed within the most intense period as both mother and creator, as it still seems more convenient to objectify the mother than to get an individual image from within.
But how much shame is there within motherhood? Quite a lot of course, it is shameful to even be a woman, to get and have menstruation or to stop menstruating, to shave or not shave under the arms, all cultures have their female shame. To breastfeed in public, or not to breastfeed at all, to take extra long maternity leave, ot to take a shorter maternity leave, etc.
In 3. ‘The artist has children’ a nine-minute short film by Sanna Lenken that was shown on SVT play, an artist is presented and the new mother’s toddler reality, in contrast to her reality with the child, a male voice is quoted during the film about the ‘artist and the ecstasy of being in the artistic state’. A humorous and moving commentary of a both general and special period of life, especially for those who have gone through it themselves.
There is little insight into the feeling of loneliness and isolation that can become acidic through the special period that maternity leave is, this with being a hybrid; an artist and a MOTHER.
‘I find it very difficult to get back in, especially with age’.
From the article 4. ‘More than a normal job’ from The Artist describes the artist Christina Olivecrona how the gallery she was attached to was closed down after a few years. In the same vein, she had a child, a son she has raised largely alone. When she was to start working again after parental leave, things went slowly. ‘It was like a break so that I came out of the spin with the right gallery owners, the right contacts. This is strongly related to the conditions for receiving scholarships, assignments and so on ‘.
If the cultural institutions were to support with a positive focus on the duel state as a parent and artist, it could contribute with an equal effect also within the artistic professions.
What about the interest of cities and regions in supporting their city / region’s cultural practitioners who are mothers? In other words, the individuals who have invested as much in their careers and studies / student loans as others. The proposed goal would be to create a continued creative and functional work environment for those who have been / are on maternity leave, or abandoned their art during the toddler years or even longer, for children, the mother’s care of child more than the father’s according to a 2008 report by the Arts Council.
5. ‘A larger proportion of women than men stated parental leave as the reason for not being active (18 and 6 per cent, respectively). Similarly, “other family reasons” where a more frequent reason among women than men (10 and 3 per cent, respectively). In terms of the seven occupational categories, parental leave was the most common reason for not being active in Music and Image and Form (20 and 19 per cent, respectively). It was most common in the occupational groups Words and Image and Form to state “other family reasons” as the reason for not being active in 2008 (15 and 11 per cent, respectively) ‘.
The report from 2016, which was mentioned before from the Artists’ Committee, touches on the need for meetings between different power fields within and outside organizations in order to be able to break old structures. And that the work must be reviewed by researchers, politicians, public opinion, the artist and cultural organizations. So there is now proven contemporary research on the effects of pregnancy. The Arts Council has the government’s task of working with gender mainstreaming. There are works that comment on the difficulties of combining motherhood with artistic creation, it appears on instagram once you have ended up in the filter artist / mother- a profession or vocation that is often limitless as a career when it comes to time investment. To date, there is no specific place or forum created for this purpose within Sweden’s cultural world. What is called for here is a platform with a clear directive:
- To create more equal opportunities for female artists who have become parents. And to contribute to a reduced isolation that often occurs during infancy/maternity leave.
- To show that our society and our culture actually include the biological effect of pregnancy and motherhood in artistic professions.
- To be able to indulge in being on maternity leave and still see the opportunity to start working creatively again
If we go even further on the political level, one may wonder why there is no establishment support for traders / artists / musicians / craftsmen and small business owners who have been on maternity leave?
In reality, how much interest is there to establish and pursue Swedish art and culture further?
During my first maternity leave, I imagined an artist’s residence in my hometown, with helpful structures and access to an active network. With willing cultural institutions that can function to hold workshops, seminars, discussion and also a specific workplace / studio during the residency period that is applied for. Where it can also include an opportunity to take advantage of other, established artists by offering mentorship. Now I got a fantastic opportunity through the development support of Gothenburg’s cultural administration. To take on the task of creating a platform for this. A starting point at least, for organising residences and a network during 2021.
The idea is inspired by, among other things 6. på Victoria & Albert museum’s artist in residence, where the artists get to take part in V & A’s huge collections, even objects behind the scenes or that have never even been on display, to choose something to be inspired by and express with their practice. Several artists and creators in each fantastic studio.
How many museums and art galleries exist in Sweden that could accommodate their local artists with working guidelines for a residence for this specific purpose?
This is also an economic issue. What are the interest initiatives of supporting such residencies or structuring of mentorship, and of building a network? A network that works to support and highlight artists and creators who end up in fatigue, loneliness, the time fluff and responsibility for birth-individual well-being and care.
The journalist and radio presenter Rasmus Persson has created a 7. cultural scholarship in memory of his mother who was a musician and put her career on the shelf when she became a mother. He saves money every year to be able to give 10,000 kronor to a cultural mother. He receives many applications, a summary of the needs is that it is not usually money that is the problem, but the time and responsibility over the child, especially in the cohabitation of artists and musicians, seems to end up on the mother’s part within the family.
In Sweden, we have some family-friendly residences, such as the artist and family-run
8. Hållnäs Art Colony and also 9. Swedish Lapland AIR. It is not an invention that it is tough to be a creator in culture and motherhood. Perhaps for many even impossible due to the conditions that are lacking in society, the family and everything in the socio-economic. We can not forget that the creators in all artistic disciplines are often highly educated with juicy student debts and at the same time 10. earn a little from their work in their practice (especially in the Image and Form) considering the education and what it actually costs to have a home that caters for more individuals. And the less time spent on one’s art, the less money comes in from that practice.
So after a child is born, both the brain of the person who carried the child mentioned earlier changes, and then also the social presence due to lack of time, lack of sleep, responsibility for another’s life and well-being while one’s own needs and ambitions back down to make room to the new life. Getting back and working professionally again becomes more difficult. And many simply lose confidence. When one has noticed this personally and by looking around, the question does not go away.
How can we influence this for the better?
Creating conditions that can improve the situation for some individuals is at least a start.
On my own initiative in 2016 I reached out to my city Gothenburg’s cultural institutions to see which could participate on different premises depending on the assets of individual places, the most interested in participating were the artist-run institutions.
What can we, together with the city’s established cultural institutions that like to work on public funds, find spaces where there are opportunities to develop something new? Of course, it requires everyone involved instead of asking
– What do we as a cultural institution / company / gallery / art gallery / museum get out of this
– ‘What names are included’ in order to get a kind of guarantee of credibility that actually came in response from a certain direction.
Without being able to start from a creative will to develop something new with the same conditions, however, but a new angle. That’s the big difference.
While the undersigned herself was in the restructuring mindset of motherhood and through a kind of practical creative stagnation that felt like an identity crisis, a ‘research mode’ period was going on instead. From previous interest in topics such as brain plasticity and the attachment theory during pregnancy, the words ‘motherhood, creativity’ and ‘artist in residence motherhood’ etc. were googled. In addition to Elseline Hoekzema’s research,
11. Lenka Clayton’s own, and accessible to all, online manual for a mental / practical residence within the home which also included motherhood. As well as various statistical results and surveys on gender equality / parental leave / scholarship applications / number of children per gender representative in the arts, but as I said, I found no, no suggestions for solutions in the issue.
I applied for a doctoral position at Valand and HDK 2016 with this idea of creating a residence with the help of cultural institutions and the school in collaboration with research, and did it again in 2020 mostly to poke at the art college but still got no interest.
I asked the question if it was not discussed about the different conditions for the artistic students who will later go through a pregnancy and have children? Why did it seem uninteresting to research? The needs exist and resources also exist, or definitely can be created. Structures are available and lots of experience, but nothing pronounced or even clearly done.
In the UK, there is an investment in art and research in motherhood and artistry, for example see the link to an interview with artist and researcher Sally Butcher on our blog on the website: mothersinresidence.se/sally-butcher
In 2020, as said, I received support from the cultural administration in Gothenburg to be able to develop this idea, which goes by the name Mothers in Residence.
An association that everyone can join but whose promotion is for artists, craftsmen, musicians, creators and creative traders to make contacts and become more members who want to be activated. In 2021, we have access to a studio we rent at Konstnärernas Kollektivverkstad GBG. In May, the first MiR started with two artists, 12. Pernilla Eskilsson and Sofi Svensson in their respective internships, performances and ceramics, who have children of different ages. And we have clear which artists will make the autumn residence with three more Mothers in residence places during August to November.
The residence is there to be able to start or finish projects regarding those who have their hometown in Gothenburg and the surrounding area who are artists / artisans and are mothers. To update their practice again, to have a studio to think in peace and with access to workshops and other artists around. A small amount of money is also included to use the individually approved workshops at KKV. In the association we have an online ‘critique group’ to create a network for all our members who want to be able to be part of intellectual stimuli or a context to present themselves and a chance to talk and listen to others. On our website, we collect interviews from different artists with similar questions about motherhood and artistry, because we are curious about each other and about the different and the same perspectives that exist.
And at the same time, everyone proves theirs and also the common factor in the duet, to borrow a description of 13. Eva Mary Alyssebowd, between being an artist and a mother, it goes the way you can and have the circumstance for. And those circumstances can be constantly improved.
The interesting perspective is that I myself am pregnant again and will have a child now in July. And the question of how to work again during and after maternity leave has already struck me.
“Museums and galleries have long failed to meet the needs of artist mothers. These guidelines could change that”Written by the brilliant @hettiejudah find the article via @artnet
These guidelines are Judah’s response to the @freelandsfoundation annual report on the representation of female artists in the UK. 10 great guidelines that would be impressive if the cultural institutions could spend time to consider, yes even all Swedish galleries, museums, art / cultural organisations!
I’ll take the last three below, let me know what YOU think:
8. Rethink or remove age limits for residencies and awards to be inclusive of artists whose careers have been interrupted by having and caring for children
9. Work with artists to customise residencies to fit their parenting needs. This could involve allowing the artist to break up the residency period into more manageable sections or supporting them through a period of research and development in their own studio if they are unable to travel.
10. Don’t read ‘gaps’ on a CV to indicate a lack of commitment or effort Artistic careers exist in many pasts and are paused for many reasons, including parenthood. Emerging artists are not always the latest to graduate.
Read more here: news.artnet.com/art-world/guidelines-artist-mothers
/ Anna Maria Hedman
* Highly recommend reading Hettie Judah, she writes for the Guardian and does assignments in this subject: https://www.hettiejudah.co.uk/’
* An existing example of a family-friendly artist residence is ‘The Mothership’, a stand-alone run residence in Dorset, UK www.a-n.co.uk/resource/residencies-the-mothership
* And there is, for example, a fantastic network of inspiring mother artists via the Mother / Artist podcast: artistmotherpodcast.com