How many times during the day do you have to make the choice about how to spend the next 45 minutes? Whether you have a long list glaring at you from your computer screen or piles of laundry to navigate around, the moments when you choose to do something creative or restorative that pleases no one but yourself may be few and far between.
As Artist Moms, Karen and I are constantly in the act of choosing how to stay in the moment, no matter if that moment finds us in our studios making art or elbow deep in macaroni and cheese preparations. Who doesn’t balance numerous responsibilities that feel at times distracting from our primary spiritual aims? Business development can often feel like an imposition, doing things that don’t necessarily seem to further our careers feel like a chore, and anything that diverts us from caring and nurturing our selves, our families and art making can make us downright mad!
This dilemma is as perennial as the seasons and as heart-breaking as the greatest losses because while our work is the expression of our souls, so is our mothering — how can we weigh one against the other?
Karen and I lead a workshop for women, The Daily-Ness of Art, which introduces art techniques using simple immediate materials like labels, a glue stick, and magazine images to create mail art and basic book forms. In this workshop we teach easy yoga practices to center the body, mind, and spirit. We introduce poetry and basic journaling practices that invite creativity. These techniques are inroads that can be done over the course of 30 to 60 minutes, providing an “art break” during any given day. We offer ways to awaken the artist’s eye and begin to see possibility for greater self-expression in daily living. We unearth the inner substrate of creativity.
Sometimes I paint my watercolor post cards ahead of time and keep them ready to use for collage substrate. Substrate means the surface upon which a collage is built or glued. One technique to jumpstart collage creativity is to make the foundational background first. This post card invites remembrance. The Full Snow Moon in February 2011 is when Suzi and I gather with our circle of women to be wild in the dark wintery night. This mixed media collage captures the moonlight stillness with watercolor paint, opalescent paper, a deep blue dot mesh and prismatic silver. On the back my message refers to viewing the MC Escher exhibit called Seeing the Unseen at the Berkshire Museum. Upcycling is another technique I often employ. See how the museum post card becomes the motif? I added this Rumi poem: “Love is the Mother, we are her children, she shines inside us visible-invisible” which celebrates the mother artist who is ever present inside our experience of creativity.
We FeMail artists hunger for community with other women. We discovered a movie that speaks to this topic with such passion and vigor that we use it as a discussion tool in our daylong workshops. “Who Does She Think She Is?” asks these soul-searching questions of five mothers who are professional artists. The struggle to balance motherhood with artistic expression or any professional calling causes a level of self-examination that can quickly devolve to grief or soul numbing frustration.
Recently, we attended a viewing of “Who Does She Think She Is?” with the filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll at an event sponsored by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Pamela spoke about the passion of women artists to do their work and lead their families in a culture that does not support women artists, and just barely, historically speaking, supports women as fully empowered members of our society. This is the United States of America, people! The job of childcare is the most important role for our nation’s future, yet it is expected that women will do this job regardless of any other factors and often for no pay.
The movie takes on the art world and its totally skewed representation of women artists. The Guerrilla Girls are featured, asking their questions with fierce gorilla masks on, decrying the under-representation of women artists in our nation’s art institutions.
These are crucial topics for discussion because the trickle-down effect plays to our most basic questions — how do I raise my family and do my work at the same time? Does my country support me in my expression of my self if that expression goes beyond raising children?
Here is my card to Karen from just last year. I use the strip collage technique with painted papers I made in our Daily-Ness of Art Workshop. That naked woman climbing the steps appears in my work often; the combination of seduction and work intrigue me. The reverse side holds my pledge to keep working within Rilke’s lines.
While we were on the road trip to meet Pamela and view the movie with her, we stopped at the Tufts University Art Gallery to take in the Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958-1968 exhibit. What a fascinating view of important women artists, so many voices speaking to the explosive political and social changes of that time! From record album covers to huge oil paintings to mixed media collages, needle worked rugs and large sculptures, this installation vibrates with the passion of these women artists who asked the very same questions we at FeMail are asking today, the same questions that the movie “Who Does She Think She Is?” asks. Many of the artists struggled with galleries, seeking to be represented alongside their peers like Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, but the larger art market spurned them. Some women created careers as working artists, but others faded from the popular view and continued working in their studios, answering that soul call to express the world in their own voice without public acclaim or remuneration.
Karen and I were stunned at the similarities of the frustration of women artists in the 1960s to today. The questions are the same; the world has come a far way along, but really not so far. Can you name 10 women artists, whether you like their work or not? Next time you are in a museum, any museum (except the NMWA), count the number of women artists whose work you see.
All of this ire fuels the activism of women all over the world to speak up, to join the discussion at the table where men seem to be so welcomed, but women not so warmly. Our FeMail post cards speak boldly as we find our way through this topic, which is at the very heart of our lives. You could select almost any card from our exhibit and find in it the moment where my soul speaks to Karen of the act of choosing. From Karen’s mantra “Art is not separate” to our Daily-Ness of Art workshops we urge women to access their authentic voice while exploring creative ways to reach out and touch someone.
Bio: Suzi Banks Baum is an Heirloom Variety Mom living in the hills of western Massachusetts. She is a writer and artist, raising 2 teen-agers with her husband. As she writes her book Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Women she blogs on the sacred in daily life at http://www.laundrylinedivine.com. Visit an online gallery and discussion of my mail art collaboration with Karen Arp-Sandel titled “Fe-Mail” at http://www.femailart.com.
Karen Arp-Sandel is a woman who wears many hats: artist, educator, yoga teacher, workshop presenter, Mother, wife, aunt, daughter and sister. In her role as a collage artist, she makes art in her home studio and teaches classes at IS183 Art School of the Berkshires, where she is on the faculty of the Painting, Drawing and Collage department. When she is not in her studio or instructing adults, she implements an exciting Learning through Arts programs in the public elementary schools using the skills in her “visual artist toolbox”. You can learn more about her in her professional capacity by visiting KarenArpSandel.com.
Come to FeMailArt.com to view an online gallery and discussion of the mail art collaboration between Karen Arp-Sandel and Suzi Banks Baum. You can also see more about this exhibit at MotherhoodMuseum.org.
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