Blog reader Haylee, an art student, recently wrote me to ask about how an artist balances work with the demands of family life.
First, a couple of slightly depressing quotes:
“Here is a piece of advice worth having. Never let your daughter marry an artist. You will bring her to sorrow if you do…An artist cannot be hampered by family cares. He must be free, able to devote himself entirely to his work.” ---Ernest Meissonier
"If you must economize, be stingy with your wife, your clothes, your food, but never on what will make your pictures better. This may sound almost immoral but in the end if you make better pictures you will make more money and then you can enjoy the food and the clothes and buy your wife a mink coat." --Norman Rockwell
Shucks, guys, say it ain’t so!
I would agree with the general statement that you have to pull out all the stops and do your best work, and both Meissonier’s and Rockwell's legacies are proof of the value of their incredible effort.
Where I would disagree is the idea that the art life has to damage your personal life. Here are some things I would recommend to a young artist who is thinking about balancing the two:
1. Either stay single (like Frederick Lord Leighton or John Singer Sargent) or marry another artist (like Stanhope Forbes) or figure out an unconventional arrangement with fellow artists (The Red Rose Girls). An artist-spouse actually helps deepen your commitment to your work.
Let me hasten to add that there are plenty of happy marriages with sympathetic non-artists. And there are successful relationships where the couple function as a dissimilar team: an artist and a business manager, for example (Frank Frazetta or Andrew Wyeth). Hopefully the partner is someone who is OK with a wildly fluctuating income.
2. Put your studio in your home if it suits your work and temperament. If you have kids, make the studio a place that they're welcome. Then they can be a part of your work life. We used to have a box of Legos next to the painting table.
3. Try to keep normal hours and schedule regular family time off and time for inspiration. This just makes quality and productivity better anyway.
One of the most inspiring examples of an art life wedded to a family life is the Swedish artist Carl Larsson. In his memoirs he reflects that the paintings of his home and family "became the most immediate and lasting part of my life's work. For these pictures are of course a very genuine expression of my personality, of my deepest feelings, of all my limitless love for my wife and children."
I welcome any thoughts you might have, or better yet, comments from your spouse.
Thanks to Francis Vallejo, who brought this topic up, link.
Thanks, Haylee!, and may you have a happy life, whatever you choose.
And thanks to Jeanette, and love of my life and my sketching buddy.