A couple of months ago, I read Jeanette Walls’ amazing memoir of her childhood – The Glass Castle. Of course, the book provoked many thoughts and questions for me – as I’m sure it did for anyone who read it. And if you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it – and don’t worry, it’s not like an Oprah selection book that leaves you despairing and depressed at the end.
But without going into the myriad of thoughts and questions this book provoked (we discussed it at a book club meeting and after two hours still weren’t done!), one overriding question remained for me:
Were her mother’s paintings good enough to provide a clue to her extreme pursuit of her art above her children’s welfare?
By that I mean: would anyone berate Picasso, or Rembrandt or Michelangelo for not devoting enough time to their kids (if they had any)? Would anyone want to tear a strip out of these artists and say that they should have been able to give up their all-consuming art for their kids? Or does the evidence of their art provide some measure of justification for the extreme selfishness of their lives? What about Mozart or Van Gogh – history is littered with examples of the brilliant artist archetype who was also a bit nuts.
Of course, I’m not saying it’s okay to neglect or abuse your children for the sake of your art – or for the sake of anything. But for me, as an artist (singer, painter, writer), it would provide some other kind of a piece of an explanation for Rosemary’s (her mother) behaviour – which is otherwise so unfathomable.
People who do not have a strong creative drive, don’t understand that you need to create or die. They can’t possibly understand how the life of a housewife would be just like a living death to an artist. Hence, we have so many housewives who have incorporated creativity into their role – through their cooking, baking, sewing clothes, crafts, directing children’s plays and concerts, field trips, etc. Or women like me, who have found a way to interweave or balance their different roles – so that they can pursue their creative visions yet still be a good Mum.
As someone who was so dysfunctional and so wounded herself, Rosemary Walls’ didn’t seem able to achieve any kind of balance or rhythm between her artist self and her mother self. And at the end of the book, it was killing me: Was her art good enough to even warrant her extreme dedication to it? Of course, no matter how good it was, it would not justify her neglect of her children – but I’m not looking to pass judgment here, I’m looking for a piece of understanding of this women and her viewpoint.
Well, after much searching, I found this video – that not only shows Rosemary, but SOME OF HER PAINTINGS as well. Thank god, I can now put that question in my brain to rest. I know my opinion of her art (nope, she was no Manet) – I’ll let you watch the video and form your own:
And just in case you’re curious, here are some of my paintings – and yes, my three children are very well taken care of, in spite of all my artistic pursuits!
KENYA ELDER – Watercolor & Acrylic (22″x30″) – by Jini Patel Thompson