Creative Mothers Will Relate to This Powerful Documentary

We review “Artist and Mother.”

Ashley Batz Photography

“Can motherhood feed your creativity?” Producer and New York Times journalist Jori Finkel set out to answer this question in the documentary “Artist and Mother.”

As part of KCET’s Emmy-winning Artbound series, the documentary follows four artists who happen to be mothers. Finkel and her filmmaking partners wondered if society’s biases and the challenges of motherhood — the pressure it puts on your time, your emotions, and your body — hold talented women back. Or, perhaps motherhood could be a net benefit to artists, thanks to its inspiring qualities and ability to make you prioritize.

Using Motherhood as Inspiration

The answer to Finkel’s question? Yes, motherhood can feed creativity. While the women profiled in the film juggle both their careers and families, they’ve found ways to turn motherhood into fertile ground for art.

That doesn’t mean our culture makes it easy for them. Society tells us that the roles of artist or mother are all consuming. An artist must put their art above all else. And a mother’s world must revolve around her children. Under these assumptions, the roles of artist and mother are incompatible. You can’t give up everything for two different things.

While the traditional art world may devalue women’s creativity, motherhood is a huge part of the human experience

Well, that’s a false choice. And in “Artist and Mother” we see how artists Rebecca Campbell, Andrea Chung, Tanya Aguiñiga, and Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle use motherhood to make better art. While the traditional art world may devalue women’s creativity, motherhood is a huge part of the human experience. And when it’s represented by mothers themselves, you get authentic, powerful art.

Take Rebecca Campbell’s piece “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Look quickly, and you might simply see an idyllic picture of a woman resting with her children. But spend more time with it, and you’ll notice this mother has a third arm. As Campbell explained in the film, the third arm shows that you grow more love as a mother. “You simply have enough,” she said. As a new mother myself, the literalness of the painting revealed a truth I felt, but could never adequately express with words.

The Art Stands on Its Own

The art featured in the film is straight up good. It stands on its own — and shouldn’t be reduced to women’s art or mother art. By watching “Artist and Mother,” you’ll learn something about the contemporary art scene. You will experience Andrea Chung’s mixed-media conceptual art, and see Hinkle in the zone using handmade brushes to create portraits of missing black women in America and the African diaspora. If you wish you had time to check out your local modern art museum, this film will give you a good dose of it, with the added benefit of hearing how the artists interpret their own work.

Andrea Chung in the Studio
Andrea Chung experimented with new techniques to tell the story of Jamaican midwives. Photo: Flickr user Women’s Studio Workshop

In addition to showing us how artists use the material and images of motherhood in their work, the film examines how they balance creating art with raising children. We see how they prioritize. Aguiñiga, for example, explained that after having a child she had to “step up” and refocus, which had positive impact on her work. And Hinkle said that many of her creative concepts came about when she was pregnant with her son. “I graduated from Cal Arts in May, and I found out I was pregnant in August,” she said. “At the launch of my career, all of these works and emotions were coming through a very female experience.” For Hinkle, whose own mother is an artist, the line between career and family is blurred.

Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle - The Evanesced
Kenyatta A.C. Hinkle created portraits of lost women of the African diaspora. Photo: Flickr user Jeremy Thompson

Stream “Artist and Mother”

For “Artist and Mother,” the filmmakers also spoke to curators and art historians to explore the larger market dynamics and gender biases of the art world. A shameful irony is revealed: The art world historically devalued mothers. But by bringing new life into the world, mothers are the ultimate creators. Thanks to these artist-mothers, we can no longer deny that.

If you missed the screening of “Artist and Mother” at The Assembly’s inaugural feminist film screening, you can stream it here.

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