Mom Art!

By Jenn Goodwin
  • Neville Quinlan, Peter Quinlan, Sam Quinlan and Goodwin / Photo by Heather Pollock
  • Dancers in Goodwin's If I Should Stumble, created in collaboration with and performed by Anita Nittoly, Sarah Doucet, Zoja Smutny, Brandy Leary, Kaja Irwin, Jasmyn Fyffe, Lua Shayenne, Nicola Pantin, Caroline-Nicolas Gordon and Goodwin / Photo by Sean Howard
  • Goodwin in her own work To do, To don’t / Photo by Annie Vuthirong

With or without kids, making art is risky and hard work. I have two boys – ages six and eight. I feel equally blessed and overwhelmed that I am someone’s mom. But sometimes you wake up to a hockey stick in the face with two extra people to feed, clean, raise and schedule … and I hear the Talking Heads singing this is not my beautiful house/art career.

My husband says if I were a supervillain, I’d be “The Scheduler.” What a jerk. If I were a supervillain, I’d make sure I had a time machine.

It is challenging to create time for self and art. These days the ecology of the arts is more open, and consideration is given to both parents and kids. And yet, I still struggle, as do many parents, with the conflicting pushes and pulls of parenting and art making – or as it sometimes feels, parenting versus art making. Artistic time is constantly sabotaged by the relentlessness of a family schedule, and the ability to pursue inspiration often falls victim to hallucinogenic states of fatigue. Will I have anything else, anything left, to make art about?

As a new mom, I was initially worried about making “mom art” – thinking it had a type of softness or tenderness to it that I was not sure I was comfortable with. I once called in to a radio show hosted by writer/performance artist Miranda July.

“What’s your question?” she asked. 

“Now that I am a mom, am I destined only to make ‘mom art’?”

“What is wrong with ‘mom art’?” she asked.

A brief but potent radio silence followed.

Yeah, what is wrong with “mom art”? I thought. And what the hell is “mom art” anyway? I honestly don’t know, but I think I should stop worrying about it. What I see are potent, powerhouse moms making thoughtful and courageous art, about a plethora of ideas and issues.

My work isn’t necessarily about my kids, but it is informed by my time with them. The way they see the world has changed its landscape for me too. Becoming a parent has helped me evolve artistically. I have just as much, if not more, to say and less time to fuck around with how I say it. My relationship with dance has transformed over the years – less frequent making, doing, seeing, thinking – but it’s also more intense and more focused on the long game. I have seen my practice unfold and grow, shift and stagnate, mature and mutate. Life practice is more connected to art practice. Domestic space more entangled with work space. Conversations, shows, classes and missed classes, the studio and lack of studio, the walks, dinners, soccer games, chauffeuring, scheduling … It’s all one practice. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it’s a hockey stick to the face.

My relationship with dance is growing. It offers a place of artistry, agency, connection and community like nothing else I have experienced. It allows me a pure joy and presence while bringing distinct and divergent experiences into a room for a clear and concise period. I desperately love dance class again. I just want to get there more. The way I work and what I make has changed: I either make dances that take four years, involve a lot of research with long breaks in between, or works that take four kamikaze weeks, with frantic prep and involving ideas that can be rehearsed and performed within an economical time frame. When possible, I try to provide a caregiver at rehearsals for dancing parents, hopefully reinforcing the value of parent and child friendly circumstances and spaces. I welcome having meetings or hangouts with kids present, or while exercising, going to shows, soccer games or cleaning out closets.

As I write, one child is hitting me with a pillow and I am trying to find someone to pick up my kids from school tomorrow. (My babysitter is sick.) I will figure it out and I will carry on with art making and concern myself less about what it’s called. Who has the time?

This article was originally published in the May/June 2018 twentieth anniversary issue as part of the anniversary feature “Provocations”


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