Australian freelance writer, editor and artist
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Rachel Power is a freelance writer, editor and artist, and a mum of 2 from Melbourne.
Rachel’s book “The Divided Heart: Art and Motherhood”, has supported and inspired so many of my previous guests, and I just had to speak to the woman behind the book.
We chat about the book, why motherhood absolutely has to change you, the importance of having your sense of experience validated, why mothers are shamed for sharing their struggles and negative experiences, and breaking the patriarchal stereotypes around the way artists create.
Quotes spoken throughout this episode are taken from Rachel's book 'The Divided Heart - Art and Motherhood'
Music used with permission from Alemjo.
When chatting to my guests I greatly appreciate their openness and honestly in sharing their stories. If at any stage their information is found to be incorrect, the podcast bears no responsibility for my guests' inaccuracies.
Podcast transcript at the bottom of the page
Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Art of Being A Mum Podcast. I'm beyond honoured that you're here and would be grateful if you could take 2 minutes to leave me a 5-star review in iTunes or wherever you are listening. It really helps! This way together we can inspire, connect and bring in to the light even more stories from creative mums. Want to connect? Take a screenshot of this episode and share it on Instagram tagging me in with @art_of_being_a_mum_podcast
I can't wait to connect. And remember if you or somebody you know would like to be a guest on the podcast, get in touch! I love meeting and chatting to mammas from all creative backgrounds, from all around the world!
Alison acknowledges this Land of the Berrin (Mount Gambier) Region as the Traditional Lands of the Bungandidj People and acknowledge these First Nations people as the custodians of the Region.
Welcome to the Art of Being a mum, the podcast where we hear from artists and creative mothers sharing their joys and issues around trying to be a mum and continue to make art. My name is Alison Newman. I'm a singer, songwriter and mother of two boys from regional South Australia. I have a passion for mental wellness and a background in early childhood education. As Susan Ruben Solomon wrote, perhaps the greatest struggle for a woman artist who has or desires children, is the struggle against herself. No amount of money, no amount of structural change can entirely resolve the fundamental dilemma for the artists mother, the seeming incompatibility of her two greatest passions. The effect is a divided heart, a split self, the fear that to succeed at one means to fail at the other. Rachel pow is a freelance writer, editor, and artist. She has contributed to many publications including Mamma mia, the big issue, Kill your darlings and the age. She has worked as a court illustrator for Channel Nine, production editor of arena magazine, and is currently communications manager for the Australian education union Victoria. Rachel is the author of Alison Ray fish, a life for art, the divided heart, art and motherhood and motherhood in creativity. After having Rachel's second book, The divided heart recommended to me from a number of guests on this podcast, I frantically tracked down the book and read it and was blown away. I was intrigued to meet the woman behind the stories that had resonated with myself and so many others. I reached out to Rachel and she was generous enough to give me this time. Rachel is a mother of two. And in this chat we talk not only about her books, but the challenges she faced in making them. The divided heart is a collection of interviews with artistic mothers, including musician Clare Bowditch and actress Rachel Griffith. Rachel's interviewees had such diverse experiences when combining motherhood and art making. And I began by asking Rachel, her thoughts around this,
when I was working out those interviews for the book, their work, there was crossover themes for pretty much everyone. But your ability to cope with those things, or their approach to them could all be very different.
Yeah, cuz the thing that really stuck out for me about that was that Helen, and then Helens daughter had a completely opposite take on it. Like for Helen, it was just immense, in almost catastrophic, it was just sewing in all consuming for it. And then I felt like your daughter, Alice could sort of take it or leave it like here, or at least that's the impression I got reading it, but she was so relaxed about it. And, you know, it wasn't the the, the intensity, and I just found that fascinating, just in the same family to have such incredible responses.
I know, isn't that interesting? I think it's in part. It's in part, generational, definitely. But not entirely. It's definitely also about personality. And it's also about art form. I think different art forms are much easier to do around children than others. And one of the things I also found really interesting was that some people changed art forms as a result, I just do remember that one person changed the kind of art she was doing. So certainly, I remember someone talking to me about how they were a painter, probably traditionally an oil painter, you know, where there's a lot of setup, a lot of cleanup, all of those things, and she just thought I can't, you know, I can't do this. It's toxic. It's, it's not easy to find time and space to set up and clean up anymore. I'm just gonna start finger painting with my kids at the table. And I think that really changed her whole approach to her, the her art form. And so, you know, it's great when you get those stories of where it's actually you know, forced a new kind of creativity
the book was written quite a long time ago, and as you would know, I wrote two editions. So, there was an early edition, which I when I started the, the divided heart as the books called, I was a journalist, so I was used to doing interviews and but I was also obviously I become a mother. I was in my A late 20s. And I got pregnant in my final year of art school. So I'd been a journalist from the age of 17. And then I'd gone back to university in my 20s. And I was part time does part time working for TV station, and part time at uni. And so by my final year of uni, I was pregnant with my, with my first child. So it was this United finally got myself to art school was sort of trying to do this thing that I really wanted to do, which was to write and paint, and then had a baby. So I think, for me, it was that shock of how to juggle everything. And I just started trying to work out, you know, where can I find examples of other people who were going through this? Or had been through this? And how did they manage to kind of find a way to negotiate these twin passions of parenting and, and creating art. And for me, at that stage, being a journalist, I suppose what I was used to doing, was researching and interviewing. And so I just started doing that, without really having any thoughts about what it would be, I thought I'd probably write an article. And then increasingly, as I, and I was just seeking out people I liked, you know, it was just a passion project where I could just say, Oh, this is great excuse to talk to these women I admire. And so I set up these interviews, but the interesting thing about it was that it was really interesting, it was really easy to set up the interviews, because pretty much everyone I contacted, was very keen to talk about this topic, and felt that no one else had asked them about it. And it hadn't, they hadn't had a chance to publicly on my own, maybe even privately really delve in to this experience. Which is not to say it was a new experience, obviously, for for women, it's been in, you know, an issue for all time. But I think maybe, you know, we're at a point where women sorry, I know I'm I'm sort of carrying on, what's interesting to me with hindsight, perhaps, is that we'd hit this sort of point where our, our mothers had been the first generation of the second wave feminists. And so we'd been told a lot about what our expectations for our life could be, you know, what that we could have at all, you know, all of those messages that, that we were, we were getting, and the sense of freedom and ambition that we all have, and should have. And then suddenly, we have children and realize how compromised that can be. And that that is an age old problem, and not really an easy problem to solve. So feminism or for you know, no matter how liberated you are, so, the fact is, we we love our children, and we want to be there for them. And our children love us and I desperately attached to us. And therefore finding space and time for something that we want to do for ourselves is incredibly difficult.
I'm sort of reminded of some people that, that were in the book that that they were people were forced to do things in different ways. And through that maybe found better ways to do that art. So an example, Jen lash who's who I've interviewed recently that she because she only had 10 or 15 minutes, she became really, really good at getting things done in 10 or 15 minutes, you know, so that sort of perhaps learning better ways more efficient ways for them to do their art. Yeah, that's sort of the theme that I that I found a lot too.
Oh, yeah, that was one of the strongest themes. So one of the strongest things, I think, particularly for those who were probably better at seeing the upsides or experiencing the upsides was that sense that they'd spent years kind of faffing about, you know, having 10 cups of coffee, you know, endlessly ruminating and suddenly they had no time and so it allowed them to do away with all of that. No fluff and just get on with the job. That was definitely a theme. And yeah, learning how to be really quick and efficient with the time with the time that they did have use it really effectively. And I'll also I thought what was interesting was pebble found whole new ways of working in that sense. So I interviewed Lisa, Who's In Who's the poet in the book, she, they forgotten, she talked about how she would just go on long walks with her baby in the pram, and she would just write a poem in her head as she walked, and then get home and quickly get it down. And there were lots of stories like that, where people have became a lot less precious about their work, which I think is, you know, that that's a great thing for anyone. And I suppose for me, sort of looking at that bigger picture of the way women work. It just felt it felt kind of gratifying to show up that history of men who have, you know, demanded silence and holed up in their ivory towers and had the, had their wives leave their lunch outside the door. And, you know, all of those things. I know that, you know, I don't want to say that all men are operate have operated this way. But you know, there's a strong, there's a strong, there's a lot of evidence that historically, men were able to work in very kind of intense, concentrated ways that relied on the servitude of others. And it put paid to that it showed me that no art does not require that and that men should not be able to demand that either. You know, really, it's just been a nice excuse. Curious, and if you can work that way, great. But it shouldn't rely on the work of women to allow men to work that way. Because women can show that it doesn't have to be like that.
Yeah, absolutely. And a prime example of your, in your book, you talk about breastfeeding, and being writing little notes, and then suddenly, the kicks of the child's legs, kick them off, and then you're sad again, you know, and finding, like writing on a night. So remit trying to remember you got really good at remembering things. And yeah, just taking whatever opportunities you could to get down what you needed to get down.
Yeah, and I loved the comment from and I think it was Susan Johnson, who's the writer who said, that she knew she could hold on to eight lines. You know, she knew that that was her maximum, if she could just memorize those eight lines, and she would get them down as soon as she could. But she worked out that that was her, you know, threshold for how much her brain could carry around. So yeah, and I do that too. I just sort of rehearse them and rehearse them and rehearse them till I can find a moment. I mean, I had my children before iPhones, and I think an iPhone would have changed my life. And you know, for all the downsides of technology and iPhones. Firstly, I think audiobooks would have saved me, you know, that would have been if I could have just breastfed and listen to books, and not have my hand kind of wrapping up every time I tried to hold this book for an hour. Or and you know, I mean, I still love writing by hand and taking notes. But if I could have been tapping away on a phone and writing little notes while breastfeed, I'm sure I would have been. So yeah, and I'm sure it's true for songwriting, too. And I know Clare Bowditch said that a lot that she uses, will probably she used to use some kind of little recording device, but now she uses her phone, and would just constantly be recording little snippets of tunes or lyrics that came to her mind. So yeah, just really using whatever you can use to whatever tools and whatever time you've got.
Yeah, absolutely. I want to touch on the idea of, of having support. There's a quote, in your book that says to create, once you have children requires the commitment of more than one person. And yeah, if followed up by the Illinois duck wrote, this situation, I found both humbling and infuriating. I can completely relate to that. It's like whatever decision you make as an artist affects somebody else in the family.
I think you're right. I mean, that is the most humbling thing, isn't it that suddenly all every all the decisions you would make and all the choices, you know, though pretty much your own up until that point, I mean, there might have affected your partner or your friends in some ways, but they they're not having the kind of profound effect that they can have on a family and on your children. And I guess everyone knows once you have children, if If you do have a partner, and even if you're separated from their partner, you it's an it's endless negotiation. And you know that it can become quite competitive. And I think that's a real danger, you know, who's having the worst time who's getting the most time, you know, who's had the most time out. And I think for, for myself, I didn't have grandparents, I didn't have parents around. And my, because I guess, also, I had my children quite young. So my parents were still working. So they didn't, and they weren't in the state anyway, for a little while my mother in law was, but she she had a lot else going on. So we had no regular support from outside and, and we were quite young, we didn't have well, we still have, we have money to throw around either. You know, babysitting is very expensive. And we were both working. While I wasn't working early on, actually, I and my partner and I, for a while worked part time each and that was great. When we were both working part time. And both looking after the children part time, that felt really ideal, because we both understood the pressures of both sides and both roles. And if if you can live on one part time income for a short time, which we could early on, while we were still renting, so on then I think I you know, that was a great way to live. But I know that that's not an option. And you know, these decisions are really, really difficult. And so for, for a mother. Yeah, it's it's quite a shock, I think, to feel like every thing you want to do with your life now has to be something that's negotiated and, and the implications for everyone around you. And especially your children have to be considered what was interesting, there was a few things that really interesting to me, too, in that is that even those women who did have support and I think, you know, a supportive partner is essential if you have a partner, and they don't support your right to make art, it is almost impossible once you have children or even without them, but particularly want to have children, if your partner is not going to be supportive of your right to keep making art. I don't know how you could you know how either your relationship or your heart could survive. But in terms of the broader support, I think women and their friendships become absolutely essential. And if you can find ways to share the load between you to take turns taking care of each other's children, that kind of thing, I think, becomes really vital. And then I think more broadly, this one quote is always stuck in my mind with artists saris, Tama city. So Sara Tama City is a painter, Melbourne painter, and she has a big family. So she married an Italian man, big family, lots of siblings, lots of grandchildren, and the her parents in law will babysit those children when people have to go to work, but they wouldn't babysit the children so that she could paint because they just didn't think that was legitimate. You know, that's just a mother expecting to have some fun or some time off to do this frivolous thing. We so they, you know, they're not going to look after her children to allow her to do that. And to me, that seemed entirely symbolic of the situation for artists in general, perhaps, but for particular,
yeah, that judgment of what society values, I suppose, and you're just messing around doing some painting, that's, you know, that's not that sort of value enough to classify it as, as work in comics.
And particularly, I think for a mother, you're that just seems indulgent. I think that's just deemed indulgent, your absolute priority should be looking after your children and, and I think the message is that you shouldn't really want to paint anymore, you shouldn't really want to have to do these things for yourself. And I think historically, I think historically, women wanting to do those things is probably even felt a bit dangerous. You know, because these are women who aren't fitting the norm who aren't willing to give up their lives to other people's needs. You know, you can see that there's a whole history of that being thought felt as very dangerous. And while that may no longer be the case in you know, that quite such a dramatic way. I think we still carry that feeling.
Oh, Absolutely, it's like you're still challenging the status quo. I think you're still even the conversation over who's going to do housework, like isn't already agreed in some silent sort of negotiation that you will take over housework. Like,
I don't mean the house, I think of marriage counselors everywhere. And just the horrible boredom it must be to be constantly dealing with these conversations, these arguments about the housework. It's so huge. I feel like the housework conversation is one. Yeah, it feels massive to me, because it is amazing that no matter how much how much you've assumed, you've got an equal partnership. It is incredible how housework just seems to fall to the woman over and over and over again. And ah, that is a really gnarly question. Like, I haven't worked through myself. Why that is because I'm aware, it's not only about men's expectations, there's something internal to the something that women internalize that means they take that on. And it is actually really difficult to go up against that instinct in ourselves, as well as societal expectations. And you know, it seems so prosaic to bring that down to housework, but I feel like housework is very symbolic of that bigger picture for women.
Helen Garner once talked of the terrific struggle for women striving to fulfill destinies beyond being wives and mothers. It's terribly sad, she said, it's a very sad thing. A woman trying to be an artist and a mother. At the same time. It's a tremendous clash, she trailed off, perhaps aware of having innocently stumbled into one of those quicksand zones, where the implications of what you were saying are so enormous and unwieldly that you risk being swallowed up. Sad was the word she used. It's a terribly sad thing. For women trying to be an artist and mother. At the same time.
There's a quote in the book that says you can never be a mother 100% of the time, because you're just an ordinary human being with different aspects to you that are not necessarily to do with the gender. Is it important for you to be more than offset in inverted commas? Just a mum. And that's not even just a mum, because we know, that's not even a correct statement. But
I'm look at, yeah, of course, yes, I think the big challenge when, and this isn't just about motherhood, but the big challenge for us in our lives, going when we've got all these other demands is to keep finding our way back to ourselves. And I think that's what artists have always been so good at, you know, art is about finding your way back to yourself in whatever way over and over again. And in doing that, I don't mean that that means you're just self obsessed, or because I think what artists doing fine in finding their way back to themselves, they're finding their way back to everything and everyone, you know, because that is so universal, it's that universal language, and then that's why it's such a connector. And it's the thing that makes us feel connected to, to the world as an end to everything, both internal and, you know, and what makes us what am I trying to say that, you know, it's also what's so important beyond us? And so, yes, at the same time, I think one of the things that I wanted to sort of get it in writing the divided heart is how profound motherhood is, and that it shouldn't just be, I think, we've often got an attitude before having children that, you know, we're just going to hold on to this self, we're going to hold on to this identity, we've got motherhood is not going to change me. You know, I'm just going to, you know, I'm going to have children, but that doesn't mean it's going to change my identity. But of course, I hope you know, I think it'd be pretty impossible to have motherhood, not change your identity and your sense of yourself. Because it's such a dramatic and profound experience. And, you know, particularly for artists who are already, you know, on the whole, deep thinking people who We are interested in identity and interested in, you know, what, what changes us and who we are, then then motherhood actually, to me presents a real opportunity to, you know, this whole parts of myself that I think I just never would have had to have encountered good and bad without becoming a parent. And this would be true for every everyone, every parent, mothers and fathers, but of course, as a mother, it's, it's very dramatic, it's very transformative, because you've actually given birth and, and because of the way that your children need you. That, to me was something I don't think I've thought about before having children was the particular kind of relationship your children have to you, particularly in those early years, that's so intense, and so demanding, you know, that it can sort of threaten to obliterate you, and your sense of self. So, you know, holding on to your identities, beyond that can or who your sense of yourself outside of that will be on that is pretty, pretty difficult. So, you know, I guess what I'm trying to say is something that I felt like, in talking to women artists, most of them, most of them felt like what they really want to was to have that sense of their experience validated, and to feel like it wasn't trivial. And that being a mother is actually really significant, and shouldn't be a theme for art. And if, if you want to make art about it, and, and in whatever way it changes you, which is not always directly about your children, and I'm not suggesting you know, everyone just starts making pictures of their, their kids, it's more
you know, you're you're extremely vulnerable as a mother out, you're, and your senses are alive, and all of those things that can be, you know, of great benefit to someone who's created art. I mean, it can be painful to but that's also good for art. So, yeah, I think I think all the women I spoke to really were embracing that, that change to their identity. Going, they didn't mean that they were going around, you know, saying, Oh, what am I trying to say? Because we've got that kind of also that sort of picture of motherhood, don't worry, that gets held up. For us. That's all loving nor caring, no light and sunshine. And, you know, I think the great thing about that is it can talk about how motherhood isn't like that. It's also it's incredibly difficult. It's incredibly painful. And we all need to hear that too.
And I think too, there's that, that fine line where society thinks that you're just whinging about your soul? Yes. It's like, well, you want it to be mine? Well, now you've got it. You can't complain? How dare you complain about this, you know, that that's something I find challenging is that it is actually okay to express the feelings and the challenges you have without resenting being a mother. You know, of course, and there's a lot of judgment, I feel associated with that, because as soon as you start to complain, you're judged. You're not you just knocked down. You know,
I, it's really strange. I mean, I, I absolutely loved Rachel casks work, book, her life's work, which I know, which is a book about her early experience of motherhood. And I know, she's been absolutely torn apart for that book, mainly by other women, by other mothers, who I think for some reason, feel very threatened by a woman complaining or expressing the challenges of motherhood is really interesting how defensive people can get and I think it's the thing that I used to say, in response to that is, if I didn't love my children so much, this wouldn't be so hard. It's difficult precisely because I love them so much. And because I actually really value my role as a mother and feel like it's an important one, and that I want to be present for my children and that I, you know, and then I feel the risk of mothering taking over really, I always still do feel that But, you know, my, my children could take up 100% of my time if I let them in. And I feel that pressure to, you know, both of my kids have, I've only got two kids, but they've both got quite, they're both quite demanding in their different ways and have, you know, one of my children has quite high level, neat learning needs. And so I, you know, I still feel that incredible guilt of not using time that I could otherwise put towards her learning needs, you know, using that time for reading or writing or whatever I might do. And this is on top of what I mean, I also work full time. So the amount of time I've got for those things on top of my job is limited anyway. So, yeah, I think that's the only response we can make is, you know, this is it's because mothers, because it's because it is such a big and important job for the whole of society, not just for us, you know, we're creating these people that are going to be out there in the world, and who are the next generation. And so it is a very significant role. And if we didn't care about that, and we didn't love our children, it wouldn't be challenging. And we've got every right to talk about how challenging it is.
Absolutely. The code, a lot of comments there kind of lead into the concept of mum guilt that possibly women have been around as much when, or at least not hashtagged. When you write in your book. Yeah. How do you feel about that? I mean, I guess we've sort of addressed that a little bit, but how do you feel about that term mum guilt and, and how it impacts upon us?
I mean, I think guilt was, in a way, the central theme, I suppose, or one of the central themes. Because time is so limited. You know, you make choice, you've got to make choices about how you use your time and that. Yeah, I think, I suspect, probably there's always been a lot of guilt for mothers, but we've got new, you know, we've got, I guess, with the birth of psychology, we all started becoming very conscious of behaviors and the impact that our behaviors have on other people. And at that point, I suppose mother started getting certain kinds of messages. I mean, I guess, historically, there's all sorts of reasons why politically, there's been a lot of control over women at different points, and what society would like women to do and be, you know, because it's him, there's been different needs at different times, and particularly when there's been kind of baby booms and women have been or when there's been a drop in. They call it today's they say dropping fertility, but it's not dropping fertility,
like the birth. In China at the moment where they've now announced they can have three children if they want. Yeah, yeah, exactly.
And so there's all of a sudden, all this pressure on women to you know, get back into the home and start birthing. And I think when I started writing my book, actually, it was sort of at the height of this weird Mommy Wars, which I just thought was so awful. So is this kind of public debate, and this is the kind of thing that media loves to grip onto and whip up? Is this fight between supposedly, stay at home mums and working mothers, as if any of us are just one of those things I'll eat you know, I mean, unless if I'd say you know, most women really are very open to the fact that some woman loves staying home and that's completely fine and great if you're in a position to do that, and you're supported to do that, and, and that that's something new want to do and, and some women need to and want to work, and that's equally fine. And you know, our children grow up in a family. Every family is different and we can all look the same and we never have and, you know, children are fine. Either way, if they've got parents who are loving and aware of their needs AIDS and, you know, constructively working on helping them become functional people. They're fine, whatever. And they just children have to deal with whatever family they're given. And that's just the way it's always been. But I guess the guilt thing is big, because I think there is a quote from Helen Garner at the very end of my book, and I can't quite remember it, but I thought it was really significant, which is something along the lines of, you know, no amount of political change, or feminist action, can completely resolve the problem of women's internal experience of motherhood and guilt. And it just seems to be so intrinsic to men's experience of mothering that they can just never be everywhere at once. And that feels like what the demand the job demands, sometimes, you're trying to, you're trying to be everything to everyone, and still sort of retained some hold over, you know, your own interests and keep them somewhere on the list. So I don't, yeah, I don't have a very sort of solid answer to that. Except that, in my experience, it just doesn't seem to be something that anyone can easily do away with. And I don't quite know why that is.
The reason most successful women I
mean, that that was one of the interesting things, even the women, though, the most successful women in my book, so the and by that I don't, actually, by that, I don't mean, the most successful because, you know, lots of women who are making incredible art haven't had public success, but the women who'd had the most public success, didn't feel and were making squillions, you know, so they could absolutely justified in that way. Didn't feel any less guilty. And that was really interesting to me. So Rachel Griffiths, who at that time was doing some la show that, you know, she would have been making big bucks. Her partner was home full time, he was a painter, but he was home full time. They had a nanny, she could throw money at the problem that that's her words whenever she needed to. That did not stop her feeling constantly guilty. And she also mentioned that I thought was really interesting is that she didn't feel that guilty when she went out to work. Like literally just had to go to work. But she also wanted to do these class like acting classes, she still felt like she wanted to help her craft and practice her craft, and that she had a lot of room to get better. And she was doing voice classes. And she felt incredibly guilty whenever she took time out to do that. Because that felt indulgent, in a way that perhaps, you know, the job didn't. So yeah, look, I don't know how. Yeah. So for that one, sorry.
I think it's a topic that people will be talking about till the end of time.
Yeah. I think so. There's no such
thing as dead guilties. They're, like, really
interesting. And that's why I'm I keep coming back to this idea that there is something different because, you know, that was the other question I got constantly, as you can imagine, when I when I first put these editions out, and I was doing lots of festivals and radio, and blah, blah, blah, I would constantly get that question. Why haven't you included men? Why haven't you included fathers? You know, there are lots of artists fathers out there doing it tough as well. And I don't doubt that my answer to that was like write your own book, I'd love to read that book. You know, if men feel so strongly about this, then one of these artists fathers should write that book because I think it would be really interesting to hear about how, how men experiencing their this role. And it you know that especially because the times are changing, and perhaps a lot of male at us are the ones home with children, if their partners are in the the more conventional workforce. So I'm still waiting for that book. But I think the one of the reasons that book hasn't happened is because clearly the experience for women is different and arguably more acute. And I don't think men do on the whole experience. That guilt, that sense of pressure, that sense of feeling like they're meant to be in a million places at one It's yeah. And, and I think that's partly because women don't just take on? Well, I think it's because women do take on, by and large, the physical load of family life, but also, by and large, the emotional load of family life. And I think that probably is just something intrinsic about, you know, overall women's makeup. I mean, I, I'm not saying that men don't care, of course they do. And a lot of men, and a lot they, you know, there are a lot of single fathers out there who've had to really take this on. But I think that emotional load is by and large, carried by women, and usually that includes the kind of care they have to have for their partners as well as their children. And then also, I think women's friendships take up a lot of time, because women tend to be in a caring role for a lot of people in their lives, not just their immediate family. You know, they've got important loyalties to their friends, to their parents, you know, and so on that often also take up a hell of a lot of time.
The writer Anna Maria de la Sol said, it's assumed that if you're serious about being an artist, you don't have small children. You make a choice early in your career, that if you're a woman, and you're going to be an artist, that she can't have children, because if you have children, then you can't be an artist.
I wanted to ask you actually, I saw in your bio online that you did a book about Alison raffish. And I'm interested to know, because this is, I think, was it published back in early 2000s. Is that right? Yeah. So it wasn't a uni thesis. Right. So you wouldn't have been anywhere in this headspace when you did that book about Alison? No, because it was very interesting, because I read that she had a child, a 13 year old child, and left to go off to England to pursue a life of art when she was 33. Left, her child left her husband and wife she went yeah. And I just thought, Gosh, it would have been good to speak to her.
I know. Imagine, I interviewed her daughter. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So I mean, I guess I've always been interested in women artists. And I've always been interested in. I mean, I suppose I grew up probably enthralled by male artists. And it took me a long time to realize that, that women's art had been really underrecognized. And I want to started sort of thinking about that. I really started looking at Australian women artists and how many amazing women artists there were, who we'd never heard of. And so actually, my, my dad is really interested in Australian women artists too. And he, he actually collects art, you know, he goes to auctions and finds these, you know, unheard of artists in Job lots and that kind of thing. And he started collecting these small paintings by lots of women artists, actually, but one of them was Alison Ray fish. And so he started just doing a bit of research, and then we started researching her together. And I was still at uni. And I was I've never, I've never gone on to do any sort of further study because, as I said, by the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I was I was pregnant, so so it didn't have a chance to do a thesis, which is a shame because it actually would have been really good pieces. So in a way, I just sort of wrote my own thesis. While at uni, and I had a lovely I had a lovely art history lecturer, lecturer at uni called Ken vac, who was very encouraging. And I just did this in my sort of spare time. And so I yeah, I as you say, I wasn't, I wasn't, I wasn't aware of the of the seriousness of that. But I guess what I became aware of is that all women then to be taken seriously as an artist as an Australian. You pretty much had to make it in the UK. So people tend to go to the UK, you know, get hung at the sell on Um, you know, get some exhibitions there, get some recognition there, and then come back if they came back. I mean, a lot never came back. But but you know, if they could make it in the UK, then they could be recognized in Australia. Very few artists have managed to make a name for themselves purely within Australia in that time. And we're talking early 1900s. And Alison Ray fish was sort of working in the 20s 30s and 40s. And so I suppose I suppose she is an example of a woman who put her art first and decided that art was more important to her than family. And, yeah, kind of unbelievably, I guess. And not in the sense that I suppose it was also a time where I think women had to make a choice, though, the choice felt Stark, you couldn't live both lives. I mean, I know some women did. Of course, there were women artists who had children. But maybe for many, it felt that you either had to choose to become a wife and mother or you could be an artist, but you couldn't easily be both. And I think I obviously felt important enough to her that she felt like she had to make this choice. And maybe she decided that once her daughter was 13. And at boarding school, was old enough to, to live without her. And she took off to the UK. Yeah, for a very, very long time. And not only that, yeah, left her husband and, and took up with another man, a fellow artist, a fellow Australian artists didn't never went back, or never went back to Australia, but never went back to her husband. So yeah, it's funny, isn't it that this didn't have as much significance for me at that, in terms of the the ongoing interest I would have, as I realized at the time, and now I can see the kind of interesting link.
Huh, it's yeah, it's almost like you had to experience motherhood yourself. To get in that, that space. You can't, you can't get a really good take on it by observing it from outside. What was it like? I think it took my daughter, what I've read online, of what her daughter said, but yeah, what was that? Like? Yeah, her daughter is Peggy. She
there was a sense that she she was pretty closed about it, I would say so she, she was really proud of her mother. She was really proud of her mother's work. And she says she had that admiration for her mother. And I think her relationship with her mother in adulthood was actually quite okay. But I could really sense the hurt and the pain. But I guess she had that sort of stiff upper lip, and wasn't really fully admitting to, to that by the time I interviewed her, which was pretty late in her life. So she probably had a lot of time to, you know, find a way to feel resolved about it. So when when I spoke to her, she was actually pretty sympathetic and understanding about the position that her mother was in. Yeah, surprisingly, so.
Yeah, that's very. But yeah, I don't even know what the words though. It's quite incredible. Do you think that Alison felt like the era she was living in there was this expectation that you just got married and had children and that was it so she just had to do it? And it wasn't too, that she was stuck in that, that she just sort of went, Oh, God, now I've got a she almost like she put part of herself aside for a little while until like you said her daughter was 13. And she felt like she could probably live without her. And then she went Riley, my life is gonna start again. Now I'm picking up where I left off basically, and, and obviously went
yeah, exactly. I think that. Yeah, there was an expectation. The man she married was quite a successful businessman. So I guess she probably the security of that was probably appealing, because I don't think she came. Well, you know, she came from a very interesting educated family. But you know, no, one woman could easily support herself at that time. And so yeah, I think absolutely she she married because that was the the expectation and probably for that security. I think by all accounts, he was a very devoted father. So that probably helped her leave. But um, yeah, I think that's right. She the, the urgency or the need to make art the absolute center of her life. I think that probably was always there. And then by the time she felt she could make the break she Yeah, I think she, she was one of those people that wanted and needed to paint all day every day. And I think that's what she did.
Was just so strong for it that nothing else came close. It was like she just stood to paint. Yeah, yeah.
One thing I wanted to mention, there was something you touched on in your book about? You said, Why didn't anyone tell me it would be like this. It has to do with the brutal fact of time prior to having a baby, I had no real concept of time. And I just wanted to say how much I relate to that, is that I thought to myself, What did I actually do with my time before I had children? Like, I just thought, I must have wasted a lot of time. Like, I know, gosh,
I know. I mean, it is so weird. That feeling of before and after in terms of your relationship with time, it because now I still feel like I've, you know, those tiny windows that you've got to you feel like there are a million things competing for that, you know, like creativity, I don't know, paying bills, exercise, you know, seeing catching up with a friend. I don't know meditating. If you meditate. I just not to mention how, you know, you could, yeah, the demands are so big. And then you feel like you've got all these little windows. And if, as an artist, you would, you would know if you don't respond to those moments and shut everything. That time can just be eaten up in a flash before you even thought about it. I mean, I, I remember, I would sort of start walking towards my desk thinking, Yes, I'm going to write I'm going to write, and then I would find myself picking up the washing basket and out in the laundry. And then I think, hold on, how did I get here. But it wasn't I'm making my way to the desk. It's like this. I thought I'm not good at that at all. I mean, increasingly, I felt like, I get why I was the one who wrote that book. Because I'm really bad at this. And I needed other people to tell me, you know, if you want to make art, you are going to have to stay so strong. To shadow all the other demands out, you have to. And the other thing, I think that the message that I felt came through really strongly was that nothing else and no one else is going to give you that permission, you are going to have to give yourself that permission to create art. You know, that's not going to come on a platter, probably everyone else is going to be quite happy if you give it away, actually, I mean, not not the people who love the work that you make, but you know, in to your kids, and maybe even your partner, or maybe even your family would be quite relieved, if you could, because it's a struggle, and it creates a lot of angst. And so yeah, you've you've I mean, I don't know, do you feel like that? Do you feel like you've got to stay really strong in that in that need and that sort of determination to create space for it?
Absolutely. Because if you don't, I feel like you lose a part of who you are. Yeah, I really do. Yeah. And like you said, you're the only person that can give yourself permission and thus the divided heart like it's, it's the perfect analogy. It's you either do something that might seem like you're neglecting something else, but if you don't do that thing, then you're neglecting yourself. So it's just this. Yeah, yeah.
And also I think actually neglecting yourself, you might not realize it early on. But as time goes on, if you do neglect yourself for too long, particularly with something like this, I mean for everyone, it's different. You know? What, what amounts to neglecting themselves, but in terms of art, which I think is so intrinsic to people, for people who need to make art, it's, it's actually really dangerous to neglect that part of yourself, it becomes increasingly dangerous, because then you can actually become quite hollow. And yeah, I think if we, if we allow ourselves to just merely become functional, without addressing all those other very important emotional and creative needs that we have, we are not going to be a good role model for our children. Because our children need to see people around them who do the things that they love to do, and dedicate themselves to the things that they feel are important. And that also I think that they, they see that art is real, you know, that art is meaningful, and that you can have a life of art and it's not. It's not trivial, and it's not indulgent. It's, it's important. So, yeah, I think you've got to keep that in mind, too. You know, kids don't want maybe they do, maybe they'd love, you know, vacuous automaton looking after them. I think, actually, you know, much more important to have real relationships within families, real people, you know, that kids see, get a chance to see the full person that their parents are that we allow them to see, you know, different ways of living and being. So, yeah, I think that's, that's something everyone's got to remember, not only for themselves, that it's spiritually essential to maintain those things, so that you don't become miserable and resentful, because the resentment is a big thing and resentment is toxic. So, but also, yeah, for for our children to have that. That picture of what's possible.
Do you find your children now as they're growing up? Did they see that I see what you you're doing in your career and your art? And they? Is it important for you that they recognize, I guess, the importance of what you're doing and contributing to the world?
Well, I mean, I can't speak for myself very well, because I haven't, you know, I mean, I do keep writing all the time, but I haven't. I mean, I've actually found it incredibly difficult to maintain my own writing. While I've been raising children and, and working. I also think that when you work in a conventional job, that's also a challenge, it's really challenging to move, why I find it challenging to move between those two modes, because that's the other difficulty with that art requires a lot of kind of quiet music and space. And it actually is a kind of it is a way of being as much as it is a practice. And I hope, actually, funnily enough, having children I think, hasn't been as challenging for me as time has gone on, as working has been to maintaining that way of being. Because there's so many, there's so many lovely things about having children, too, that I think, fit quite beautifully with a creative life. But work is challenging. And work is related because I work because I have to help support my family in a way that I might not have had to if I had not chosen to have children, I might have been able to work less and make more time for it. But I do my my daughter is a big reader. Now and which is great, because as I said she's had to really overcome some massive learning difficulties. And because of that, I think, because we worked so hard on her reading, it's made her a reader, which is and so she really loves talking about books, and she really loves talking about writing, and she's constantly encouraging me now to have a child that says you've got to write you should write you should write more. You know, he's actually really sweet and I really value that my son who's just obsessed with footy is totally oblivious. You All right. So yeah, I think yeah, I, I feel really lucky though that I think I feel like I've got a real relationship with my kids, they understand who I am. They know, I've got complex needs, and they, they're very, you know, I feel like they seen me as much as anyone ever sees them. Mom is a, you know, real person, they see me as a real person. I love that, because I have been quite open about, you know, my without, without directly sort of burdening them with with it, I have been, at times quite open about my frustrations and, you know, my desires to be more creative. And so, you know, I don't think there's any harm in harm in that. I don't sort of want to I don't want to be hanging out for retirement though. My my children is 16 and 19. Now, and so I'm feeling much closer to having that time where it's amazing how you think 16 and 19. You know, you think, Oh, well, the youth should be completely free. Now. Maybe some people would be but no. Like, getting my son through year 12 was like one of the most hellish years I've ever had, maybe particularly because it was in lockdown. So getting a child through year 12, while you're basically at home, doing remote learning is something I don't ever want to have to do again. But But I do feel like I'm getting closer to not so much just time and space, but my mind being my own, and not having to be as full of every everyone else's needs as it used to have to be. So you know, there's liberation ahead. Like, yeah, more creative space and time. I mean, I've sort of written, I've written a novel in draft form, in in the most ridiculous bits and pieces over the most ridiculous number of years. It's embarrassing. But I'm hoping that, you know, at some point, it will take shape. Hmm,
fantastic. Because I was actually going to ask you, if you've got sort of, obviously, you would have projects you're working on. But is there is there something that is close to being shared with the world?
I think probably it's a few years off yet, but I have finally, you know, have inched out, I've inched ahead. The funny thing, too, I've found is that, I think probably because I've struggled so much to have time, I'll often start something new. And then I'll get into it. And then I'll look back at something I wrote 10 years ago, 10 years ago and go oh my god, it's actually this novel. I'd be writing the same novel for 15 years. Yeah, it's funny how the themes come back, and back and back. And actually, weirdly, no matter how much I tried to get away from it, the novel that I've been working up is absolutely about women and art. And it just seems to be this preoccupation. And so that is what I'm weirdly writing about. And I'm really hoping that in you know, I'll get enough time in the next few years to actually pull it all together and have it makes sense enough to be something that could be Yeah, published. We'll see Fingers crossed. Oh, I
wish you luck.