Books on art and motherhood

Austin Kleon
Aug 28, 2015 · 3 min read

Amanda Palmer recently published “No, I Am Not Crowdfunding This Baby,” a post about fan entitlement and her anxiety around becoming a mother. I’ve spent a good deal of my reading year reading books about art and motherhood, so I shared a couple with her on twitter and figured I’d list them here:

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Sarah Ruhl’s 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time To Write is my favorite book on the subject. Ruhl is a playwright and a mother of three, and so this book is full of short essays about making art and raising children, and the interesting ways that one influences and provides insight into the other. She also writes beautifully about art’s need for solitude and quiet vs. the constant interruption of mothering:

There were times when it felt as though my children were annihilating me… and finally I came to the thought, All right, then, annihilate me; that other self was a fiction anyhow. And then I could breathe. I could investigate the pauses.

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Sally Mann’s Hold Still covers her long, interesting life and career, but a portion of it reads as a cautionary tale about using your children in your art.

Not only was the distinction between the real children and the images difficult for people, but so also was the distinction between the images and their creator, whom some found immoral.

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Jenny Offill’s Dept. Of Speculation is a wonderful short novel about art, marriage, and motherhood that you can read in one sitting. The way the text is fragmented replicates the way you think when you’re a new parent. About the book she has said:

New parents, but especially new mothers like the [main character], have a set of alarms going off in their heads during the early, high stakes period of trying to keep a baby alive, while dealing with the pleasant lull of housebound boredom. The transcendence is undercut by the tedium. I wanted to get that feeling on the page. The solution I came up with was to describe her thoughts and actions in fragments, so that one would always be dislocating the other.

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Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts got the most thumbs up from others when I posted it yesterday — while all these books are in some way about women coming to terms with being both an artist and a mother, there’s the added complexity of Nelson being a queer-mother-artist, and an older one at that:

I’m an old mom. I had nearly four decades to become myself before experimenting with my obliteration.

If you’re interested in the subject, you can read more about all of these books here and for perspectives from both moms, dads, and the child-free, browse my parenting tag.

Of course, I’m sure I’m missing many favorites. Please feel free to leave your favorites as a reply or tweet them to me.

Austin Kleon is the author of Steal Like An Artist and other books.

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