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Women Making Art: A Time Guiltily Seized

"Women in the arts know that in the end it is not acclaim, praise, or approval that we seek to attain; it’s the irresistible journey to transform the self and live a life that is whole."


By Cathy Malchiodi, Psychology Today


All artists pursue their calling at a price, but for women artistic creativity sometimes comes with intense sacrifice, guilt, ambivalence, and personal challenge.  A compelling documentary film on women artists explores the barriers to the creative process and how art ultimately transforms women’s lives and those around them.

Like many female artists, I cannot begin to count the times I have been waiting for water to boil while thinking about the composition of a painting, or running back and forth from the studio to the stove to make dinner or the laundry room to put the clothes into the dryer.  Certainly, artists of either gender may engage in this dance between the pursuit of art and the domestic life, but women in the arts know what I am talking about.  One of my favorite authors bell hooks captures much of this internal struggle when she writes in Art on My Mind, “We worry about not giving enough of our care and personhood to loved ones.  Many of us still labor with the underlying fear that if we care too much about art, we will be companionless, alone.  And some of us who have companions or children make sure that when they come home there are no visible signs of our artistic selves present.”

bell hooks is correct—in spite of the feminist movement in both society and the arts, women are still conflicted about how to divide their energies between creativity and the home front.  And they sometimes even wonder how these decisions about where to put one’s passion are killing the imagination and passion necessary to fuel their artistic creativity, dreams, and visions.

Filmmaker Pamela Tanner Boll has taken on these aspects of art in women’s lives in her documentary, Who Does She Think She Is?  The film relates the stories of five women who are professional artists and mothers, the critical importance of art in their lives, and how both parenting and art making are often devalued in our culture.  Boll was the co-executive producer of the acclaimed documentary, Born into Brothels, about the lives of children in Calcutta’s red light district and the power of art and winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.  Her current film is due for national release this month.

Being a caregiver and being an artist have some things in common—neither is generally a paid position.  And both are about engaging in something you love—the care of children, partners, and family and the deep desire to make art.  What becomes challenging, as unfolded throughout Boll’s film, is that women are also expected to make money from their creative skills and talents while juggling roles of marriage/partnership, motherhood, art and economic realities.  Despite these hurdles, what becomes clear is that women and often those they care for strongly believe that it is all worth it, and that, in fact, the duality of artist and caregiver enriches everyone’s life, rather than diminishing relationships or creative passion.

Adrienne Rich once said of creating poetry that it is a time “guiltily seized.”  While the moments are stolen, I know from myself, conversations shared with other women, and the stories told in Boll’s film that it is every bit worth the struggle.  Women in the arts know that in the end it is not acclaim, praise, or approval that we seek to attain; it’s the irresistible journey to transform the self and live a life that is whole. 

© 2008 Cathy Malchiodi


This article was originally published on Psychology Today:



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