Last night, my son had his 15th birthday ‘sleepover’ (why do they call them sleepovers when no sleep ever happens?), so I was in nominal charge of 8 teenage boys. This morning, as my son and I cleared up the quite considerable mess, I found myself musing over the similarities between parenting and art.
Art is an everyday thing. Like parenting, it is made up of lots of little moments, a thousand little decisions and a hundred thousand moments of just showing up – what Alison Lee of Craftcast calls “getting your butt in the chair”.
Art is usually not the heroic struggle of Romanticism or the epic machismo of the 1950’s Action Painters, although those big dramatic moments do sometimes occur, most often in the run up to an exhibition. Instead art – for me at least – is rooted in the everyday; in the daily ritual of the Diary Project envelopes, in the way I sit in my computer chair listening to podcasts while I do another couple of rows on a Thread Drawing canvas, in the slowly changing pile of art books that are permanently in residence under my bed.
Although it is not usually about domesticity, my art is firmly rooted in the home. I am fortunate enough to have a studio at home and like Virginia Woolf, I recognise the importance of having a room of my own. However, my art also takes place in other rooms in the house: in the living room while I’m watching TV with my family, in my bed where I often draw, in our library/dining room where I sit at the big table and stick photos into my sketchbook, in my study as I make work in front of the computer, in the shower where I think up ideas, in the kitchen when I get distracted from cooking by the sudden overwhelming need to photograph the ingredients.
Art permeates my whole life – it isn’t confined to a set time or a set place.
In the myths about art, this everyday quality is often omitted. For some reason, it suits people to imagine dramatic moments of crazed genius, a life lived on the bohemian edge and a slow descent into madness, drugs and suicide. We seem to want our artists to be very different from everyone else. Perhaps the reality of getting your butt in the chair, like the daily grind and pleasure of parenting, seems too mundane to most people? Was this great art really made in front of the TV or with radio 4 playing in the background while the artist drank cups of tea and pottered around the studio – how dull! We wanted death threats and overdoses, tortured homosexual love affairs, rats and cockroaches in the studio, drunken pissing in the fireplace, body parts cut off and maybe a couple of tragic stabbings!
But art – like parenting – is not something you do once in one grand and shocking gesture and then never again. Instead, it’s a constant trickle, a constant reiteration that this tiny thing, this moment of awareness, this quiet, everyday dedication is the really important thing.