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You really need to make up your mind. Or is it already too late? Has your body already made up your mind? You would almost think so.

Why the sudden rush otherwise? The way you jumped out of bed to get on the phone with your sister, to tell her all about a broken condom. A broken condom, for fuck’s sake! Surely you have been around long enough to know that a broken condom does not a baby make?

But you were cussing and crying already so sure.

Your sister, although younger, is the voice of reason. That is why you often fight -you don’t like being reasoned with!

Because you’ve got everything you need/ you’re an artist/ you don’t look back, you are of the school that will say: if you can’t stand the smell, get out of the kitchen!

But you will listen when she reasons that your body is not some queasy-bake oven, and if the toxic fumes in the kitchen are bad for you they are probably bad for your baby and your lifelong togetherness that starts. Now.

So you can put down your brushes or at least put away the turpentine and turn to acrylics, that half-baked good that is neither fowl nor fish. Turn blue, blue, Phtalo Blue.

Although, you cannot undo the past: already embedded in your fatty tissue are the toxins and the heavy metals of Lead Whites, Cadmium Yellows, Chrome Greens, Manganese Violets. It is your excess and your guilty pleasure, but it is also your craft. Those vibrant hues, those mixed substances you like to overindulge in, your babies will get in with their breast milk.

(“It’s ok!” you try to calm yourself, Van Gogh and Gauguin used to dare each other to eat paint, to wash it down with turpentine, like the real painters they were –and they turned out alright! But when you think about it –what mother wants her baby to turn out like Van Gogh or Gauguin?)

So, no more Cadmium Red for you, at least for the time being. No more Manganese Blue. No more Chrome Orange.

No more Red Light Red, Bottle Green and Cigarette White either.

There are other colors of course. Earth tones: Ochre, Sienna, Van Dyck, Naples Yellow and Caput Mortem. Earth tones like Shit Brown, Piss Yellow and Milky White.

Your palette will be a little more “Mother Earth” for a while.

You hate earth tones, or so you think. (Caput Mortem means dead meat, means you are dead meat, career wise, that is.) You’re a modern girl, and you love life –you love vibrant colors and big gestures. You paint like a man, man!

This is the Gold standard where-and-whenever older guys teach younger girls how to apply wet paint to dry canvas –and you can’t paint like a man if you behave like such a girl!

Sooner or later you will be pulled aside and you will be told that you better be prepared to choose, because as soon as Baby rears it’s ugly head, you can throw out your ambition with the bath water. Whether in jest or in deadpan seriousness, whether drunk or sober(ing) whether followed by an attempt to merge your wet youth with their dried out mid century, you have been and will be told, repeatedly, that as soon as Baby moves in, your qualities as a painter will move out, as if your bold gestures, your good taste, and formal judgment, were purely hormone based.

(This will turn out in part to be true, temporarily; you will find yourself wearing floral prints, and it will confuse you. Pastel colors never suited you. Powder Rose, Lilac, Peach and Periwinkle. This is not how you know yourself! You used to be one of the boys, although one of the boys with a décolleté.)

You will be reminded of that misogynist mantra –the one you yourself have chanted so many times, it has become truism, that “the worst enemy to good art is the pram in the hallway”—but this time you will be on the wrong side of the pram.

This is where female artists fall by the wayside, you will be told, and not only by men.

Judy Chicago, one of the most prominent feminist artists in the US, and arguably the world, boldly states that: “I became determined to use my time here on earth to create art, as much of it as possible and to make a place for myself in art history”

In Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education Chicago recalls how, in the early stages of her career, she would sometimes do “male drag;” a formally tight, minimalist, hardline mode of sculptural abstraction that was fashioned to look like it had been made by a male artist. (What will also be referred to as “dude art” in the post-post-ironic future.)

Chicago expresses some regret that she had to make these formal concessions, before “coming out” in the late 70’s with works such as the butch “Dinner Party” –a landmark of Feminist art. Regardless, she insists that these amends, both formally and privately, are necessary to prove that you are willing and able to play the game. It is understood that if your end game is a place in art history, recreation and procreation are necessary sacrifices, and to become “one of the boys” one must become “one of the boys.” Furthermore she maintains that as a woman you need to realize that you cannot “have it all.” [1]

(As ever, the euphemism “it all” refers specifically to that sad cow double whopper of childbearing and career—greedy bitch in heat that you are!)

But, really, isn’t Chicago’s insistence that you cannot “have it all,” –and not only as a personal choice, but as a rule applying to female artists in general– the most ill-fitting, alt-modish, unflattering “male drag” of all?

Somehow, coming from a woman and fellow feminist, this female on female misogyny hits below the belt. Not in the solar plexus of your ambition, but in the root chakra of your desire.

Because, at its root, the impulse to mother is simply that –desire. A lust for life. A romantic sturm und drang, and then some. Not ambition, nor destiny, but as Kristeva calls it: a passion. Like art making. A desire as carnal as labor. As kinky as lactation and as disturbing as disfiguration. As mysterious as sharing your most intimate secrets with a perfect stranger. A desire as simple as Courbet’s “Origin of the World” as natural as Manet’s “Olympia,” as obsessive as Bonnard’s idyllic family affairs.

This one desire will wipe out all other desires for a full year, until all you desire is a full nights sleep. A full nights sleep, a bicycle ride, the sweet agony of a day spend in the studio followed by the mellow extacy of a night on the town, downing a few beers with some friends and smoking cigarettes in front of an art gallery and then, again, a full nights sleep. This is the hedonist past you will mourn. Are you ready?

You’d better be because:

What’s that sitting in your lap/ why it’s the next generation/ and is it true that it is worth all the sacrifice that we all have to make/ no matter how rich or poor/ yes, it’s the next generation…[2]

The next generation belongs to the future, and future events will make the conundrum of art versus life seem petty.

In the future a passenger plane will carry 298 people. They will leave from Amsterdam just like you will one day, but they will never return. They will be blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile on July 17th2014, while your son recites poetry to a full auditorium. Aboard the plane will be 80 children with their families as well as 15 crew-members and a handful of the world’s best and brightest AIDS researchers and activists.

Meanwhile in the future, a Japanese artist launches plants into space. A bonsai tree and a bouquet of flowers: Peace Lilies, Poppy seedpods, Dahlias, Hydrangeas, Orchids, Bromeliads and a meaty Burgundy Heliconia. Viral images will show them orbiting the earth, like floral arrangements for a sky burial. Vermillion Red, Chrome Yellow, Manganese Violet, Cobalt Mauve, and Cinnabar Green against the weightless Mars Black of deep space. You will imagine them adorning the celestial cremation oven of an exploding airplane. [3]

Those two incidents were not connected, but in your minds eye. Such is the gravitational pull of life and art.

It is no coincidence that the word gravity and the clinical term for pregnancy (gravida) have the same Latin root: gravitas, meaning weight or heaviness. Having children will add gravity to your life, that is true, and supposedly this gravitational pull will tear you away from the unbearable lightness that lends gravitas you art.

I hate to break it to you, but even Hélène Cixous, your feminist godmother has been entertaining this idea.

I her essay The Last Painting or the Portrait of God she speaks of her admiration of painters –but only the fast ones! She associates painting with the speed of light and life:

One does not paint yesterday, one does not even paint today, one paints tomorrow, one paints what will be, one paints “the imminence of”. And to do that, letting go of all ties, one flings oneself beyond the ego. This is perhaps the greatest lesson painting gives us; flinging oneself beyond the ego. For the ego is the last root preventing flight. […] At times the painters ego is no more attached than a milk tooth. A pull, and straight away, with a leap, in the middle of creating.

Moreover, this leap is not into an abstract, conceptual void, but rather into an embrace, a lap or even a womb, as she continues:

At that moment, when the ego no longer weighs him down, the painter becomes permeable, becomes immense and virgin, and becomes woman. He lets light work in him. Submission to the process. He becomes tender, he becomes plant, he becomes earth, the sun impregnates him.

Try those words for size. Like your well-worn jeans –which along with a leather bomber jacket, a plaid shirt and a pair of Doc Martins make up your painters attire—to see how they fit. Soon they will feel constraining –too tight around your waist as you fling yourself beyond the ego. As you succumb to the guilty pleasures of motherhood, your ego will be no more attached than your firstborn’s Zink White milk tooth, you would proudly wear around your neck, was it not a little creepy and also, what is worse, so sentimental! You will go to sleep one night with your baby in your arms and wake up the next morning from a wet dream of paint. It will be a rude awakening, but also your finest hour, because: In the future you will not need to paint like a man, but will make art with the gravitas of a pregnant belly and the lust for life of a mother.

In the future feel free to throw to the wind the well-meant precautionary tales of your heroes and teachers of yesteryear. Go ahead and put your body and your mind in the service of the next generation, and not the “my generation” of your mentors.

In her essay Feminism and Motherhood Susan Griffin states:

I have been asked if I had the choice again, would I have a child? This is an absurd question. I am not the same person I was before I had a child. This young woman would not understand me.

I have to ask myself now, giving you a piece of my mind, do I understand the young woman that you are? Am I matronizing you, when I insist that the ripening and gravitas associated with childbearing and –rearing can enrich your creative practice? That you can in fact “have it all,” but “it all” may not be all you thought it would be?

The moral of this tale could be that the art/life dichotomy is a fallacy. Just like the ideal of a work/life balance could be one. I may not be a balance at all. It may be a hodgepodge, or an amalgam. When you fall by the wayside and you pick yourself up, gravity may cause your lust for life and your passion for art to get jumbled about and cling to each other like magnets, because in their polar opposites, they point toward the same direction: the future.

I have been like you, you will be like me. You pity me and I mourn for you, and yet there is no way in life that I would trade places with you.

Why? It’s the next generation.


























This text was originally written at the request of Christa Donner and will be published in a shorter version in a compilation of letters to a young artists on with advise in the topic of parenthood, under the title “Dear M.”  I have chosen to publish it here in its full length, as I read it at the pre-lauch of my book “Mothernism” at the Great Poor Farm Experiment in Manawa, WI and at ACRE, Steuben, WI.



[1] Judy Chicago: Institutional Time, A Critique on Studio art Education, Monacelli Press, 2014, quoted in Tieman Morgan “The Birth and Education of Judy Chicago,” Hyperallergic, July 14 2014.

[2] Neneh Cherry “Next Generation” Raw Like Sushi, Virgin 1989.

[3] Paula de la Cruz, “A Japanese Artist launches Plants into Space,” The New York Times, July 18th 2014.

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