I recently attended a lecture on women in the arts and was quite surprised when the speaker said: “I never wanted to be married or have children, so I never felt conflict about being an artist.”
I was dumbstruck (although not totally—because now I’m responding!). Perhaps I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Of course I started to list women writers and artists and rock and rollers who were married with children. Feel free to go ahead and do the same. Then I listed other kinds of conflict: money, first and foremost, societal expectations, family expectations, class, race, temperament, madness, illness, lack of inspiration, grandiosity, aesthetics, nationality, war, dislocation, and sure—gender, etc. etc.
So—I’ll agree being an artist is full of conflict. But marriage—post 1950’s Feminine Mystique? And children? Now that’s tricky—children beguile and they take time. They inspire, unleash creativity, and grow up to support your art. They also get strep throat and cause you to spend hours at Urgent Care. So I’d say—have them if you want and don’t if you don’t. But in my experience they aren’t really that central to the conflicts of art.
When I was a teenager, at the height of what I think of as second wave feminism in the US, it’s ideas helped me. They helped me to attempt to be a free person. The excavation of women writers as important really supported my efforts. However, I wanted only two things:
1. To have a boyfriend and
2. To be a writer
Probably the first has had more lifelong importance. These were not really connected. Boyfriends—yes, husbands too—take up time, inspire, etc. I’m just not the kind of artist who has wanted to be separated from ordinary life.
Of course I do know many women who found family life to be in conflict with their art. Most of us need some kind of solitude or container to create. Any kind of work you hate is going to be draining and distracting. But so is any kind of suffering. I guess I’m not totally at ease with the heroic male model of artist as separate from the concerns of daily life. Prometheus stole fire from the gods and was eternally tortured. Is that my kind of heroism? Maybe I’d just rather toast a bagel and write when I can.
Should I say: “I always just really wanted a boyfriend and to be a writer so I never felt any conflict”? Maybe!