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Me Too...For Artists

My grandma Nada was an artist. She saw the world through color and form. When I was little she would take me to her favorite Italian restaurant in Chicago.

She’d tell me, “the food’s pretty good here but I come for the table cloths.”

Each table was adorned with a big sheet of white butcher paper. In her purse she had an array of colored pencils and pens. She would whip them out as soon as we sat down and start to draw. First and foremost a doting grandma, she would teach me how to do cartoon characters or start a drawing and then let me finish it. Inevitably however, long after my short attention span looked elsewhere for entertainment, she would start to sketch and draw for real. Side views of women’s faces, trees and leaves giving way to flowing streams, a still life of the bouquet on the table. By the end of dinner the table cloth would be filled with ink from my grandmother’s hand. We would pay, stand and leave her masterpieces to be rolled up and thrown away with the leftover spaghetti.

My mom is an artist. ​​ She sees the world through figures and collage. She enjoys making sense of the world

through combining images and words in meaningful ways. Her pieces speak her heart and show her love for things. She’s retired now after teaching for more than 30 years. Now, at 70 years old, she finally has an art studio in her bedroom where she can create and a weekly art class that keeps her inspired.

Both of these women put everything before their art. Child rearing, house cleaning, church going, work, husbands, children, extended family, politics... it all came before their art. Both women eventually got to do art, later in life and “only as a hobby,” but most of their lives were spent doing something else and not a whole lot of people stepped forward saying to them

- “Here, you have a gift. Let me show you steps for making this a major part of your life. You are an artist. Do this for your soul... Do this for future generations... It’s important”

I’m reading a book right now called Ecstasy by Mary Sharratt. It’s a story about Gustaf Mahler’s wife who was a gifted pianist, musician and composer. She was forbidden her gift and passion upon marriage. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, FORBIDDEN. “Yes all that music stuff is nice dear but what about the cooking, the cleaning and the child rearing?”

This book is making me crazy - the unfairness, the patriarchal idiocy, the ignorance is baffling to me. Most horrifying thing of all is the general acceptance by everyone - both female AND male - that this is just the way things are. It’s waking me up in the middle of the night, gritting my teeth to think about all the music, the sculptures, the paintings and poems, the literature and inspiration that has been lost to our world because so many women were asked, or forced, to put aside their art to perform their “womanly obligations.” I am seething with the loss of it and I feel so angry.

There is a line in this book asking, “must I choose between my music and my love?” For this poor woman that answer was yes. For so many of us at some point in our lives the answer is yes... and what woman is ever going to look at her secret inner longing to sit down at the piano and compose and then look at her sick and fevering child and choose the music? I don’t know of a single one.

Something has been growing in me as I read the book and bristle at the culture of the early 1900‘s. I want to beat my balled up fists on Gustaf Mahler’s chest screaming,


But screaming and pounding can only get me so far and only make me feel so good. I have to come up with another plan... I also have children and work and food to cook and a house to clean. Luckily for me I also have a wonderful partner who is all of these things too - all of them. We walk the creative road together with our music and art and need to eat and drink. He doesn’t value my daily chores over my soul’s desire to create and this is making all the difference in the world. I am free to create. Free in a way my Grandma never was, free even in a way my own mom never was. They paved the path for me. Every woman who has ever picked up that pencil, paintbrush, carving tool or typewriter, regardless of the ramifications, has paved the path for me. But the journey is not over yet. My plan is to relentlessly create.

I am an artist. I write and make music and create things that speak my soul. I look into the world and see deeply and then I have this insatiable urge to tell everyone about it in words or song or color. I do it

because I have to. I do it because it is either release my muse or dry up inside and become a lunatic. I’m not famous for my art and I sure as hell don’t make money doing it

- yet-

But I don’t care because nothing makes me more happy than creating something and sharing it with the world. I might not even be “any good at it” - whatever that means - but by Gods and Goddesses I have to do it. Not just once in my life, but every day. It’s like breathing or eating for me.

I titled this missive “me too” for a reason. Here is where I am going to get a little brutal and maybe it will be your turn to bristle, but I am an artist and one job of the artist is to put up mirrors in the darkness - so here goes...

The Me Too movement is about the big horrific acts afflicted upon women without their consent. The rape, the imprisonment, the molestation, the threats and violences. But I am here to tell you there are many ways to rape, imprison and molest a woman that are far more subtle and just as lethal.

If you are not an artist then you probably don’t understand that not being free to to do your art feels like a violence. It feels like imprisonment or slavery or rape. It’s that bad. I’m not being overemotional about this - I am dead serious.

When your daughter or wife or sister shows you her gift and you push it aside telling her that's cute but she has other obligations or should choose a career path that’s more secure

It’s a form of rape. It’s a form of molestation. It’s a violence.

When you see your daughter sit down at the piano and match note for note what she’s hearing on the radio and the first thought you have is, “oh no there’s no way we can afford to send both her brother AND her through music school...”

It’s a form of rape. It’s a form of molestation. It’s a violence.

When your sister reads you a poem that goes so deep inside your heart that it brings tears to your cheeks but then you say, “not bad, for a girl”

It’s a form of rape. It’s a form of molestation. It’s a violence.

When your wife paints a masterpiece and wants to hang it in the living room and then guests come over and comment on it and your response is a patronizing, “yes, yes isn’t she wonderful? Now in other more important matters...”

It’s a form of rape. It’s a form of molestation. It’s a violence.

I am an artist. It took me 40 years to be able to write that publicly and it still feels like a guilty admission in Alcoholics Anonomous. I still hear the echoes of, “well that’s nice dear but how will you make a real living?” This from a girl who had amazing parents and an incredible upbringing. What is it like for the women out there who have absolutely no support at all?

It is time for female art to penetrate the world.

It is time to drastically support female art. The world needs it so badly right now and we have so much to say and sing and draw and write and create.

And this is where you come in. Yes You...

It is time for female art to penetrate the world but we women are not really the penetrators are we? It is not always in our nature to push ahead and fight for our art. That is the masculine. You have to make a space for us to place our creations. We do things differently. We are the ones who will quietly create in the night and place a poem on your pillow case the next day. If you’re not careful you might miss it. We are the ones who write from 3-5am because it’s the only time the house is quiet. We are the ones who sit down at the piano and secretly compose while our husbands are away at work. It’s not the 1900’s any more, (thank the Goddess!) but women are still expected to put so many things before their art and their passions.

Do you have a female artist in your life?

Then I am asking you to deeply nourish her. Make space for her to do her art. Let her be. Give her time. Offer to take her children for the day. Cook her a meal.

I am asking you to be aware of your tone and your words when speaking about her creations. I am asking you to not be too busy. Soak her art into you. I am asking you to get her lessons. Sign her up for classes. Introduce her to people who do what she wants to do in the art world. Brag about her art to your friends. Help her. I am asking you to watch your praise or lack there of. I am asking you to go out of your way to say to her

“Here, you have a gift. I see it and I love it. How can I help you take steps for making this a major part of your life?” Don’t just do these things once in her life, but do them every day.

Trust me, this is how you can fix this.

This is how you can honor women like Alma Mahler who literally went insane because she was forbidden by her husband to write music. Do it for your soul and hers and for future generations...It’s important.

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