Artistic success is hard to define - much less achieve - especially for women with children. Commentator Anne Galloway says that's the topic of one of the films showing this coming weekend at the White River Indie Film Festival.
As a mother I've struggled with the dilemma all working parents face: Whether I should stay at home with my children or pursue a demanding career.
Initially, I did what most Vermont mothers do. I put my children in daycare and went to work. I lasted less than a year and then opted to take sporadic, part-time jobs until my kids were school age. When I finally went back to the world of real work, I traded a certain level of familial bliss for chaos and disharmony. Laundry piled up; mealtimes were scattered. I missed school presentations, concerts and games. But good things came out of it, too. My children learned their dad bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie, and they could see the pride I take in my vocation. A new balance was established, one that enabled each of us to become more independent and more connected.
There was another saving grace too: I was able to enhance my family's bottom line. It's bad enough to feel as though you're stealing time from your children when you go off to work, but imagine how much courage it takes to pursue a talent without knowing whether you could earn a living at it as a singer, painter or sculptor?
A new documentary, "Who Does She Think She Is?" which is being shown this weekend at the White River Indie Films festival, explores the lives of five women who try to strike that balance between taking care of their children and developing their artistic talents. They each achieve a certain equilibrium, but it comes at a cost to their families and their work. The director of the film, Middlebury College alum Pamela Tanner Boll, carefully tracks the artists as they walk the family-versus-work tightrope. Boll creates intimate portraits of the artists as they interact with their families, make their art and talk openly about the difficulty of breaking into big venues. In spite of their talent, drive and personal sacrifices, none of the artists in the film has achieved national recognition. Even so, several of them see the tension between work and family actually snap. In one of the film's most moving interviews, painter Maye Torres talks about how her ex-husband saw her art as an impediment to her fitness as a mother. Eventually, he won custody of their three sons in the fallout of their divorce.
Though gender equity is thought of as a given in American society, the statistics don't bear that assumption out. Art, like business, law and politics, is still dominated by men. Though women make up 48 percent of artists and art historians in the United States, only four percent of new exhibitions of the Museum of Modern Art, for example, showcase women's work.
Though clearly the film has a feminist message, it doesn't come across as a strident lecture. It is a reasonable plea for inclusion. As Boll says, "If you can improve the lives of women, you can improve the lives of everyone."
This article was originally published by Vermont Public Radio: