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Artist Mother, Artist Son

12 May 2012

My mom is an artist, but she's nothing like me. For all that, we're both artists. If you want to know where I got my artist genes, I got most of them from her. Genes alone don't make an artist, though. Making art is kind of a stupid career to choose. Nobody needs art, and if you become an artist, odds are good you'll either suck, or starve. Likely both. It takes encouragement to become an artist, reckless encouragement. I got that kind of encouragement.

Left to right: To Gorky by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 1974, oil on canvas, 48 x 72; Hands #1 by Daniel Maidman, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 24.
Left to right: To Gorky by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 1974, oil on canvas, 48 x 72;
Hands #1 by Daniel Maidman, 2011, oil on canvas, 24 x 24.

Most people want to be artists, a little bit, I think. And by and large, people should be discouraged. Art-making should be necessary; it should burn the artist not to make art. All good parents would like their children to be safe and secure—to make a living, save something for retirement. But parents have another concern: that their children should be happy.

I got the usual crayons and watercolors as a child. And then I got interested in other things, for a long time. When I came back to making pictures, my mom saw what it meant to me, and encouraged me to go so far as I could. That's a big thing.

Here's another big thing about her: while she's an artist, she had to reckon with my sister and me needing to get fed and educated when we were little. Her mothering isn't the maternal type we associate with matching hand towels and adorable clam-shaped soaps. She's more of a wild animal, and I wasn't so much a child to my parents as a small, nosebleed-prone friend. My mother is an adventurer; my father's mother was an adventurer; my sister jumps out of airplanes. We're all adventurers, one way or another, probably me least of all.

Marrakesh by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 2009, watercolor painting on paper. Doodle by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 2011, ink drawing.
Marrakesh by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 2009, watercolor painting on paper. Doodle by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 2011, ink drawing.

So here you have my mom, 24, 25, jazzed on graduate school and Eva Hesse and matte-finish postcards for three-person shows. It's the sort of lifestyle that doesn't involve a lot of cash flow, and like I said, we were hungry and ignorant, as little children are. It was going to take a real income from two parents to raise us, not just my dad. So my mother stopped making installations, and went into advertising. I remember her being an artist when I was a toddler, and I remember her being in advertising, and then marketing, and then in an executive position, when I was in elementary school and high school. It was obviously a demanding career, but we never caught a whiff of resentment; we knew we were loved.

I took it all for granted at the time, but I don't take it for granted now that I'm following the same path she started down. Once in a while, I consider getting a real job. Fortunately, I live a nearly responsibility-free life, and what responsibilities I have, I fail miserably at. It causes a lot of stress, but not so much stress as if I had to stop making art. That would break me in two. What my mom did to provide for us before we could provide for ourselves is a hell of a thing. That she neither resented nor parasitized our own creative pursuits is a part of it, a remarkable part of it.

St. Martins by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 2010, both watercolor paintings.
St. Martins by Ellen Maidman-Tanner, 2010, both watercolor paintings.

There is good news: for those of us fortunate enough to live in the new world, life is long and resources are plentiful. There is time to put your children first, and time left to undertake the arduous return to yourself. There is room for a lot of love. Now that my sister is safely shipped off to her airplanes and motorcycles, and I to my brushes and canvases, my incredible mother is calibrating her high-powered career to allow more time to paint. She started out strictly abstract expressionist; now she's doing loose watercolors during her bewilderingly far-flung travels. On Mother's Day, I wanted to share some of her work with you.

With lots of love to you, Ima, and gratitude to all of you mothers out there, for everything you do and sacrifice to raise us. It is noticed. Happy Mother's Day.

--Daniel

 

 

 


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