Happy Mother’s Day. Here are 5 of my favorite books about making art and being a mother:
1. Sarah Ruhl, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write
Short essays about making art and raising children, and the interesting ways that one influences and provides insight into the other. Ruhl is a playwright and a mother of three and writes beautifully about art’s need for solitude and quiet vs. the constant interruption of mothering:
There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me… and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.
2. Sally Mann, Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs
Mann is that rare master of both pictures and words, and her memoir shows off that mastery: the visual images are perfectly woven into the text to tell her story. The book covers her long, interesting life and career, but a portion of it reads as a cautionary tale about using your children in your art.
Not only was the distinction between the real children and the images difficult for people, but so also was the distinction between the images and their creator, whom some found immoral.
3. Jenny Offill, Dept. Of Speculation
A wonderful short novel about art, marriage, and motherhood that you can read in one sitting. The way the text is fragmented replicates the way you think when you’re a new parent.
About the book she has said:
New parents, but especially new mothers like the [main character], have a set of alarms going off in their heads during the early, high stakes period of trying to keep a baby alive, while dealing with the pleasant lull of housebound boredom. The transcendence is undercut by the tedium. I wanted to get that feeling on the page. The solution I came up with was to describe her thoughts and actions in fragments, so that one would always be dislocating the other.
4. Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
While all these books are in some way about women coming to terms with being both an artist and a mother, there’s the added complexity of Nelson being a queer-mother-artist, and an older one at that:
I’m an old mom. I had nearly four decades to become myself before experimenting with my obliteration.
Another very good (and fragmented) short read with a really smart system of quotation, and an excellent ending.
5. Sylvia Fein, Heidi’s Horse
Fein, a surrealist painter who celebrated her 100th birthday last year with a 70-year retrospective exhibition in Berkeley, took a break in her painting career to write this book and its followup, First Drawings. The book collects her daughter Heidi’s drawings of horses from the age of 2 to 17. (Fein raised her daughter on a horse ranch.)
I don’t know of any other book like this. A weird, remarkable work showing the development of a child’s drawings with a single subject. (More about the book in my post: What pictures of horses can teach us about art.)
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Filed under: parenting