Artist-Parent Utopia

A Draft

By Letizia Acosta

I am a mother of two small children. I am an artist. I need help. I want to make art, but I am too busy taking care of my children, so I can’t. I need help from other people to be able to make art. Is it idealistic to think that is possible? We need to help each other, we need childcare, we need cheap creative spaces, and we need a basic income. Many people look down to us if we don’t do everything for our children and don’t manage to make art at the same time. Sometimes I don’t know how to do this.

”…Parents in general have pressures on them that are actually beyond the natural responsibility of a human being.”

Gabor Mate in conversation with Zoe Blaskey

Transformative Properties

I am a mother of two small children. I am an artist. I am in need of assistance. I am in need of connection. You probably are too. I must create, but to do so freely I need to be considered as the human being I am – instead of the cog in the machine I am supposed to be. I am not the only parent stuck between a rock and a hard place. Becoming a parent has highlighted how far humans have deviated from our natural capacities and expectations. It has also transformed the act of creating art from something purely elective into an urgent, necessary means of survival. In the face of unnatural expectations and responsibilities attached to parenting, creating art is a lifeline; it is a revolutionary act of defiance and re-imagination – especially if the parent in question is the mother. Through art-making a parent can weave a way towards who they are independent of their children, but also find out who they are on the other side of the experience of parenting. In the context of modern life, something as deeply ingrained in us as parenting and family building has become beyond difficult, beyond possible. Being a parent is not just hard, it is unnaturally so. If you are a parent reading this and have ever felt like you were pinned under a boulder or tied to one and thrown into the sea with your art practice dangling there just out of reach, know that you are not alone in these feelings; they are not dramatic, you are not making up the intensity of parenting. Most of us are forced to parent in ways that are against our intuition and beyond human capacity.

Setting the Scene

I sit here with an urge to get a point across, but I am met with obstinate chaos.

There is a running, high-pitched dialogue blended with loud crashing sounds coming from my four year old on the other side of the couch, and my eight month old has taken my yellow note pad and strewn it across the living room just as I’ve typed these few sentences. They also keep coming over to wildly swipe at the keyboard; I assume out of the will to mimic me.

What it Takes

Quite a few needs must be met in order for a parent to be immersed in a creatively supportive environment. Many of them are basic needs that all people would benefit from, not only parents. I am not so delusional as to think that having these needs met would be easy, but I do strongly believe that they are possible to meet, not just in a utopia but in the very imperfect, not-far-off future.

I feel we must reimagine what a family unit looks like. Communal parenting is the key: it offers us a way back to a more intuitive way of living. In community, we can share the responsibilities of parenting while also validating each other’s experiences and struggles as we provide a space for frustration, sadness or anger to be expressed safely. Beyond that, it makes daily life more fun if we are not isolated from one another.

We also need reliable, affordable and safe childcare along with accessible art spaces and communities that welcome children rather than marginalise and silence them. Children deserve a space in artistic communities: there is a lot to learn from them.

Artists with children also need access to affordable, creative spaces outside of the home. This provides a clear delineation between work and home life that is essential for focus, and it allows for full immersion in projects and artistic creation. It should go without saying that access to basic income is also an essential aspect of being able to step more deeply into a creative life. Basic income allows the artist and their family security despite their artistic production and capitalist values. It frees the artist to create out of pleasure and passion and not the need to produce for financial gains. This reduces pressure on parents, which opens up space for play, joy and deep connection between the familial community. I would like to note here that these points I have mentioned are basic needs that help parents of all experiences – including those who live under various spectrums of oppression, and despite their relationships to art and creative expression. I recognise the specific needs of marginalised communities will be different considering the systems are set against their thriving.

Valuing Artists

As an artist with children, you face unique backlash - especially if you are a mother. Wider society tends to believe that you must be a selfish maniac if you don’t feel totally fulfilled by your role as a mother. How dare you try to hold a part of yourself back from the edge of sacrifice. It is common to be ridiculed, doubted or written off for dedicating the other part of yourself to something different than your children - and even think of putting a price tag on your art! But artists must be valued as everyone else and taken seriously by partners, family and friends for their multiple dedications and limits. If you go to the studio but are constantly being called, or your studio time is considered optional, you will not be able to sink deep into your work.

Taking a Breather

I could go on and on, but I’m exhausted and I can see this is my first window of silence all day. So, after taking all of this density into consideration, I invite you to step back for a few minutes.


A few more steps

There! That’s it. Now squint your eyes a bit and take a breath.

I would like us to consider what it would feel like to be held exactly how we need to be. What does it feel like to exist in the ideal conditions for artistic thriving? Where does the tension lift in your body? What parts of you settle into being held? Where does the fear flee to? Where are your children? What does the division of your time look like? Imagination is the first step. Embodiment is the stride with which we progress forward.