In homage to this season where we honor parents through mother’s and father’s day, I wanted to highlight successful artists with families. There is this widely accepted perception that artists (especially women artists) can’t be successful if they start families. The stereotype of the the lone artist dedicated to their craft, eschewing any and all serious relationships lest it distract them from their ultimate purpose of creation still reigns supreme. Acclaimed feminist artist Marina Abramovic has repeatedly spoken in interviews about how having children holds artists back and is a disaster especially for women’s careers. However, isn’t viewing parenting, a role that is traditionally considered feminine, as less then an inherently sexist view? Disclaimer, this is all coming from someone who actually doesn’t want kids! However, it boggles my mind that being an involved parent is often looked at in society as “doing nothing” or underachieving one’s potential. I never thought about it much when I was a kid or teen myself, but how much of a full time job parenting truly is has really hit home for me as friends of mine are beginning to have children, and I see and hear firsthand about their experiences. Even with pretty awesome, well behaved kids, parenting is a 24 hour job. After 18-20 years, the hours may be cut back a little but really it doesn’t end there, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a vocation that is far from “nothing”.
Abramovic made headlines and sparked heated debate when she told German newspaper Der TAgesspiegel: “In my opionon, having children is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that”. The following amazing artists and designers with kids prove that you don’t have to.
Mark Ryden, forerunner of the pop surrealism movement, used his daughter as the model for this famous (or to some infamous) piece, Rosie’s Tea Party. The painting ended up in the middle of some controversy over the inclusion of Catholic symbols embedded in the piece. Asked amidst the uproar whether he felt people were imposing their own interpretations on his work, Ryden responded, “There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of. The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to the making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery. They need to literalize it all and tie it up in a neat little package”. As someone who has had people misinterpret the intent of some of my work based on their own bias and subsequently fly off the handle over it, I can empathize. Wrongfully interpreted or not, I am also very against censorship in general and feel people need to be able to handle being confronted with things they don’t always agree with. Ryden’s wife Marion Peck is a successful working artist as well.
Jason Lee, a wedding photographer working in San Francisco, started this project in 2006 when his mother became ill. Because of the need to be careful about germs, her granddaughters’ visiting was restricted. Lee started a blog with these whimsical photos because he wanted his mother to still feel connected to what was going on in the girls’ lives, and he also wished to give her something that would cheer her up and make her laugh. Lee collaborated with his elementary aged daughters to come up with a host of ideas for surreal, comical photoshoots to share with their grandmother. More of the creative and adorable results can be seen here.
Remy Coutarel is an illustrator from France, now residing in Seattle. He sites his young twin boys as a constant source of inspiration for his work, especially with his children’s book illustrations. His cheerful and imaginative illustrations span a variety of styles and subject matter, all with a recognizable sense of movement and unique character creation.
Children’s clothing line Princess Awesome got its beginning on kickstarter, the collaboration of two moms and good friends, elementary educator Rebecca Melsky and stay-at-home mom, part-time web developer, and seamstress Eva St. Clair. Melsky had a daughter who loved cars and dinosaurs, but would only wear skirts or dresses. Of course, there were no patterns of cars, trains, or prehistoric beasts to be found anywhere except the boys’ section. The two moms saw a gap in the clothing market, and decided to fill it. They started bringing their designs to craft bazaars, not sure whether other parents would like their designs that featured fabric patterns far different from what could be found in the typical girls’ section in department stores. The clothes sold out immediately, and they started getting orders. St. Clair also home schools her 4 children (She’s basically a superhero), and the two knew there was no way they’d be able to keep up with one person sewing out of their home, which is when they turned to kickstarter to fund their business. The rest is history. I love this company. As I think of myself as a child, one who was also not a fan of wearing pants and liked playing with dinosaur figures and matchbox cars and collecting bugs and rocks just as much as playing with Barbies, I know I would have adored these clothes. Most clothing companies that pop up as an alternative to the typical “girls section” fare tend to veer entirely in the opposite direction of no pink, and no dresses, so that the girls in the middle who may love stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girly” things end up left out. The company even makes scarves for adults featuring the fun fabrics covering their kids clothing. I need that dinosaur scarf ASAP.
Independence Day clothing
Independence day clothing is another line of designs created by a mom that saw a need that wasn’t being filled, and rose to the challenge. ABC news interviewed designer Lauren Theirry in 2015, shining a spotlight on the new company that aims to provide accessible and fashionable clothing to the autistic community. Theirry was a financial news anchor for over a decade before she decided to make the change to becoming an advocate for autism full time. Theirry had no fashion design experience when she started, but she had been helping her son with autism get dressed for 17 years and knew what others like him needed in a piece of clothing. Because people with autism often have issues with fine motor skills and can also have heightened senses, zippers and buttons or rougher fabrics can be extremely vexing and uncomfortable for them. Theirry decided that people with autism, “… deserve better than T-shirts and baggy sweatpants.” She designed a line of clothing in soft fabrics that feature no zippers, buttons, or laces that men and women with autism could easily take on and off themselves. All designs are also completely reversible with no defined front or back side, and are not designed to be gender specific, so that everyone can feel confident and comfortable while wearing them.
The Huffington Post interviewed this last fashion entrepreneur, who is not just a designer mother but a designer grandmother. Karen Bowersox already had business experience from running her husband’s medical practice, but the decision to dive headfirst into the clothing business at 65 was inspired by her granddaughter with down syndrome, Maggie. Finding clothing that fit Maggie’s proportions properly was always a struggle for Karen’s daughter, especially with jeans or pants. Maggie’s family was not alone in this. Having no prior fashion experience, Bowersox reached out to designer Jillian Jankovsky in order to start her own company tailored specifically to children and adults with down syndrome, then called Downs Designs. Bowersox’s company was rebranded in 2016 to NBZ Apparel International after it expanded to provide jeans and slacks not only for people with down syndrome but individuals with other varying disabilities as well, including styles with no buttons or zippers for those struggling with fine motor skills. Bowersox wants people who look at her granddaughter and all individuals with disabilities to see the person first, not the disability first. She believes having clothing that individuals with disabilities can feel comfortable and confident in and that fits correctly is the first step. In the interview with Huffington Post, Bowersox said, “I can’t believe I’m changing the world, all with a pair of jeans“.
These artists, illustrators, and designers are successful because of their family, not despite them, and their children have inspired them to generate ideas they would not have come up with otherwise. Don’t let others define what limits your potential based on their own fears and prejudices, and to all the parents out there, thank you!