The Simple Truth of Motherhood and Art

NOTE FROM ROBIN: Today on the blog, Seattle visual artist Rebecca Woodhouse jumps in to give us all a moment to consider the common myth that motherhood and art are at odds with each other.

She’s amazing, really, and I don’t say that because I’ve had the honour of her friendship for the last 20 years. Her abstract linocut paintings start with carved words pertaining to her personal and political life. She then creates texture overlaying dozens of layers of geometric patterns. 

Although more comfortable in a mosh pit than in an art gallery, Rebecca has exhibited widely on the west coast and is represented by WaterWorks Gallery in Friday Harbor, WA.  She is also a writer, working on essays about her positive experiences integrating motherhood and her profession— working against the stereotype of the dysfunctional artist.

Conceptual art, conceptual art. It’s all the art world wants right now.  Yet, I don’t come up with an idea and work from there.  My work reflects the human condition because it reflects my life. Once you take a look, there is more to see.  I am a process-oriented, abstract artist. My work is the embodiment of entwined identities, artist, mother, all of me, and only in writing this did I realize that the work I have been doing for years, the work the blurs the lines between printmaking and painting also holds more than one identity.  

I fight against a lot of the stereotypes our culture holds about artists.  We’re not all men. We can be happy and live secure lives.  We can choose motherhood. Within these truths is the minutia all humans go through, the ups and downs of life.

Motherhood and Art
Rebecca at WaterWorks Gallery with her son, Owen.

Sometimes, I wonder about the stereotype of artists being moodier. I think we just have a physical measurement for it.  We have each painting, each series. We have our writing for the day, our collection of stories or poems. The progress on our novels, our music, our plays. Every piece involves a plethora of decisions, successes, and failures. Messing up as we go is an infuriating necessity of the process. 

At The Crossroads of Gender Roles

Parenting involves the same qualities. To circle one’s life around two subjective pursuits can seem crazy but far from impossible. I hold such joy in choosing to be an active parent and such anger for people who told me I had to choose art or motherhood.  Why not motherhood and art? If women don’t support each other, society never will.

Every woman I know has felt judged for being childless or for having a family.  Every mom I know has felt judged—especially in early motherhood—for choosing to stay home, for choosing to go back to work, for choosing part time work or full-time work. It can feel like a lose-lose situation.

Finding Inspiration in Motherhood

Winter Memories

Despite being told I needed to hide my motherhood from galleries, I have used the image of my pregnant body, my children’s writing and drawings, their music, and my musings about parenting in my work.  My linocut-paintings are made from dozens of linoleum and rubber blocks, used repeatedly within each linocut-painting and from piece to piece. I have a pattern to everything and use each block corner to corner, one color at a time. But I always need to break things up after a while.  I’ll throw in random elements like brushwork or a layer of white to cover everything. Each linocut-painting has at least a couple dozen layers of color, and I’ve counted 60 more than once.

Traditionally, printmaking is either hand-pressed or made on a printing press.  Since I work large, I work on the floor, and I’m really using my feet instead of doing anything that resembles tradition. It is, in fact, much more like the pace and requirements of motherhood. I move up and down so much, I often need to stretch and do yoga right on the work while my body weight is pressing the color down for me, rather amusing to watch.

Making Art In A Pandemic

Inadvertently changing my artist identity from painter to interdisciplinarian or multimedia, or mixed media artist or whatever I’m supposed to label myself, I recently, I added collage to the mix. As a result, I started the series at my kitchen table early in the pandemic.

Made of my printworks, the collages reflect the process of deconstruction and reconstruction COVID-19 has brought. We have reconstructed our lives around a new reality of mandates, social distance, and remote work. We try to hold on our pre-pandemic lives.

Yet, the new realities and restrictions are woven in. It parallels weaving of artist-mother identities. Limited by space and continual interruptions of distance-learning, I began slicing pre-Covid paintings and recombining them into more structured pieces.  They retain the colors and textures of what came before, but gaps and separations are introduced, creating new synergies and harmonies.  Now, back in the studio, I can work on both series, letting each medium inform the other.

Motherhood and Art – Not One Or The Other

You already have a glimpse of how my art has changed in motherhood. Some would say this is one basic reason why parenting and art don’t mix. I have heard it argued that parenting takes too much time and energy away from art, that it is different from full-time employment because it is all-encompassing. After nearly 15 years of entwining the two roles, I have to say that my drive for studio time is greater than sans niños.  I need to prioritize it like never before, because of all the other demands on my time.  I’m not sure energy even matters, because my need for solitude and self-expression is magnified by the daily rollercoaster of parenting. 

In the end, judgement and fierce competition have no real place in feminism.  We need to support each other. Take up space, use our voices. Put our time and money where our hearts are, read female authors, put art on our walls by female artists, sing women’s lyrics, and spread our knowledge. And we know men can be feminists too, right? 

Recent Comments

  • Leslie
    27 April 2022 - 12:59 pm ·

    This line really resonated with me. “My need for solitude and self-expression is magnified by the daily rollercoaster of parenting.” I am still on a roller coaster ride even though my kids are all technically adults at 18 years of age.