Sunday, February 1, 2009
Art, money, family, life...
Who else noted Sonya Hartnett's answer in The Age yesterday when asked if she keeps a diary? "No. Like Truman Capote, I am physically incapable of writing anything for which I won't get paid" was her answer. Hmmmm. Am I jealous? Yes. Very.
For me there is still a stark contrast between the writing I do for money and the writing I do for myself, i.e. that I love.
In one of the repeated conversations I have with my partner on the subject of our mutual creative frustration (he music, me writing/art), the one thing that differentiates us is that he is not currently in a position to make money from his music, which he does around the edges of full-time work. And in a way, that has its own freedom.
I, on the other hand, feel a constant tug-of-war between writing for money (freelance articles etc) and writing for myself (short stories etc), both done on top of my part-time day job.
These questions of how/where art fits within a family dynamic are an area of constant fascination for me. How do you calculate what's 'fair' between couples, especially where children, a lack of money and a need to make art (or pursue any passion) are in the mix? To me, this matter is endlessly complex and fraught.
From a feminist perspective I also find it humming with ambiguities. Are there areas of life where women still benefit from the persistence (even resurgence) of traditional arrangements--the assumption that men will be prepared to work full time, which gives some women a certain freedom of choice about when and in what form they will work?
I am aware that it would be hugely controversial for my partner to say that he is giving up work to make music full time and to hell with the consequences. Whereas I can imagine my women friends, at least, applauding me if I were to make the same declaration. And yet, there are times when I would love to swap--he work part time, me full--but, for all his support, I don't entirely trust that he could really take over the rest. The cooking, cleaning, the pick-up and drop-offs... the holding of a thousand little threads that keep this household operation ticking over.
I have a lot of female friends around me whose creative lives are in a sense supported by their partner's willingness to be the reliable breadwinner. I think this is an enviable position to be in--though that's not to take away from the amount of work these women do around the home, in terms of housework and caring for kids, which is in itself a full-time job.
I am not going to attempt a review here, but Susan Johnson's novel Life in Seven Mistakes has some extraordinary passages on this theme, as does her memoir, A Better Woman, which I quote in The Divided Heart. The trajectory of the conversation (page 211-212) between the main character Elizabeth, a potter, and her husband, a wannabe filmmaker, is so familiar to me as to be painful to read. "Are you going to give up making pots and get a real job so I can give up work to become a genius filmmaker?" he asks her. Ouch.
Also a compelling read on this theme is Wendy James's wonderful novel, The Steele Diaries, about a woman who as a child was adopted by patrons of her famous parents, both obsessively driven artists working in the 1930s. In it, there is a letter from mother to daughter (I have lent the book to someone, so can't tell you the page number, sorry) that powerfully sums up the situation for a woman artist who cannot reconcile her maternal and creative selves, particularly in an era where women artists had to show their capacity for single-minded determination in order to be taken seriously. I hope that much has changed.
Oh, and you must go and see Sam Mendes' masterful new film, Revolutionary Road, for a truly devastating picture of what can happen to a woman who needs more than a domestic life.