The Artist as Parent

the artist andrew conti

So much has been written about how artists who want to be serious artists shouldn’t have kids. I’ve read it in books, in blogs, heard it in films, podcasts, and all kinds of places. The theory goes that if you have a kid, then you won’t have time to focus on your work. You will be drug into a world of diapers and school plays, filled with responsibilities that will keep you from giving attention to your true child: your art.

I heard this story a lot in my life, and even for a time believed it. Then my daughter was born, and my perspective changed. I came through experience to understand that not only was this a myth, but in fact that quite the opposite is true. Having a kid can propel your art to new levels.

I think like most myths, this story has a bit of truth to it. No one would argue that kids aren’t a lot of responsibility, and no one would argue that they don’t require a fair amount of time. But looking at the time we have, and looking at how we spend that time with others and all the things we do, making time to be with your kids isn’t some black hole of time suck pulling all that we are into its realms. In truth, it’s another area of our life that requires attention, and it’s an important part obviously. Because of that importance it can lead to re-assessing and cleaning up the rest of one’s life and schedule.

And  re-assessing my time and schedule has been the most valuable thing for me from having a child. Suddenly you see your time more clearly. The things that you value time-wise become all the more visible in your day, week, month, or year. And having a kid actually helps you start to categorize and delineate how you spend your time.

When I was younger and apparently less full of responsibilities, I found all kinds of ways to waste my time with things not related to my art. Having a child is like this massive boost of focus that allows you to see everything you are doing with greater value and clarity.

And this isn’t just a matter of time management. I think that having a kid boosted my sense of professionalism and dedication as well. Suddenly with all those added responsibilities, the idea of just floating along at my pace didn’t cut it. I have another mouth to feed, and all kinds of experiences and possibilities I want to open up for my daughter. And I want to do that as a full time professional artist.

I wasn’t a slacker in pursuing my art and a sustainable career in the arts before hand, but having reached another stage in my life as a parent my energy changed. Having a child is like the most powerful vitamin ever, or discovering you were actually born on the planet Krypton. Because you do have new demands on your time and new responsibilities, focus in the time you allot to your work becomes all the more important. And focus is more important than all the time or energy in the world. From a room brightly lit, to a laser dot pushing out to forever.

I have certain hours in a week when I can get into the studio and get to work. These certain hours mean that one has no time for things like inspiration, one instead has to get to work (See awesome Chuck Close quote here). If I don’t get to the work during that time, then I can’t always pull time out of somewhere else, and I am out of luck. So I get right to it during those hours. No dillying, no dallying –as my mother would put it.

I would never say that being an artist with a child is all painting roses and chocolates. Truly it does change things and takes time and energy, you have to make time for your art. You can be crazy tired at times, frustrated, and drained emotionally and spiritually by the sudden power of a new and independent voice in your home. There can be time when you are ready to get into the studio and get to work, if only your little angel would fall the hell to sleep.

Yes, frustration can and will come. But it isn’t suddenly outside the norm of frustrations you have previously felt. The return on giving of yourself can be tenfold in the form of focus. And there is a kind of power in having kids around they can push you to new heights in unexpected ways, and soften every landing.

It should be noted too, that kids can augment your fears in wonderfully awful and intense ways, and have you up and working at hours you would never have considered before.