Minutes from Meeting held on 3 September 2013: Perception of Mother/Artist

mothership perception 1Perception of mother/artist: How does having a child effect the artist within a reputational economy?

Tues 3rd September 2013 from 1.30-3pm at Visual Artists Ireland, Central Hotel Chambers, Dublin 2



The frame for this meeting relates to the perception of the mother/artist – How does having a child affect the artist within a reputational economy? Do you feel that you, your practice or your professionalism is considered differently now that you are a parent? Would you like to understand better the structures that support the art world and why parenting might impact on how you are perceived? What practical responses might be taken to respond to this? The session will be lead by artists Naomi Sex and Fiona Whelan.

In attendance:
Lynda Devanney, Carissa Farrell, Sandy Kennedy, Cora Cummins, Naomi Sex, Tessa Giblin, Mary Fitzgerald, Jason Oakley, Sheena Barrett, Michelle Browne, Carolann Courtney, Elaine Leader, Orla Whelan, Niamh O’ Donnell, Fiona Whelan and Niamh Looney and 5 children.

Fiona set the context for the meeting. Many themes had emerged from the initial mothership meeting and Fiona had felt this was the one that most personally connected to her. Because of the subject matter of Naomi’s recent PHD, Fiona had invited her to give an input on her understandings of the reputation based economy of the arts to act as a frame for the subsequent discussion. Naomi gave an edited presentation related to her PHD. Some key points:

• While Richard Whitley coined the phrase ‘reputational economy’ within a scientific frame.

• Naomi outlined the recent professionalism attached to the arts and the constant act of presenting ones-self through cv, website, etc communicating publicly who you are associating with, what you are doing and where. She referenced this also as an ‘attention seeking economy’.

• Naomi referenced Hans Abbing’s description of the art world as made up of many smaller worlds where cultural assembly and cultural superiority and inferiority occurs. Power emerges, dominant voices emerge and have social value for example generally those trained in art educational institutions are the ones who say what art is.

• Naomi described the unique relationship to money in the art world which is different to other economies. Money is often hidden and conversations around payment are often the last to happen.

• Originality and distinctiveness are seen as very important to the context of art making as is the collective regard for the artist, what is being said about them and visibility is also still of primary importance in this economy.

• The growth of the Post-Graduate arena brings a new language, a research and academic language dominant. Naomi sites Dan Fox’s analysis of artists’ press releases as repetitive with aggressive undertones and over use of key phrases, urging a move to other forms of non academic writing.

Fiona invited each person in the room to introduce themselves and say something relating their personal experience to the context of the meeting or the presentation. Many themes emerged and were then discussed:

mothership perception 2


• Working for low financial return is a high risk move, start out by giving all, only a few rewarded (or not – does it ever pay off?)

• Working extra hard having just had a baby to prove yourself.

• You can become invisible when you have a child in your hand, assumptions you are still on maternity leave, or not making work.

• The age and personality of the child impacts on what’s possible.

• Guilt as mother/artist.

• As a curator, you are being perceived and a perceiver of artists. Being a mother and artist is not seen negatively by some curators.

• Some collectors won’t buy work from female artists pregnant/ with children because they feel they may stop making art and value will decrease.

• We are not in our twenties, average age much older having children. Labour state, artists can’t have kids until their 30s.

• Societal gender issue, childcare is female issue.


• Openings are of key importance for staying connected.

• Attending seminars and talks also of importance for staying connected to the discourse and to your peers.

• Professional visibility is a construct – easy to slip off the radar.

• Reduced opportunities for peer critique, exchange and organic opportunities to develop.

• Returning to formal education can be a way back in after a child is born.

• Shallowness of art world, branding game, leads to disillusionment.

• Value of documentation, don’t need an audience for some work, just good documentation.



• How many successful women artists are there who have children? Many successful female artists have none.

• Some female artists chose not to come to Mothership meetings, there is a self-consciousness around how you are perceived, they don’t want to be seen as ‘whingey mums’.

• What you present of yourself, different in different contexts

• Can we be leaders – can this be a movement? Hide from it or present it, be visible with our children.

• Gender/parenting statistics would be useful.

• Isn’t it a justifiable whinge – coming from a place of anger?

• Why is the time now for these conversations? Is this a third wave of feminism?

• There are a lot of people interested in this theme now, is there a critical mass having children, can The Mothership Project exploit that?

• When you have an issue in this economy, this is what you do – form a group, voice the concern. The Mothership Project is that.

• Bringing children to openings, in the public eye – there is a leadership responsibility in that. Sacrifice some of your own comfort to be a leader.

• We must normalize the view of artists with children

• Many in the room are also educators in arts educational institutions. How to teach students how the art world works, balance between exposing shallowness and teaching skills to survive, importance of openings, networks.

Practical suggestions:

• Connect to Women’s Art Group (WAG) – Group of Irish artists formed in the 70s/80s – explore their motivations then and what’s changed.

• Develop a site for international studio swaps to include houses with studios. Could the international studio at the Red Stables be used as part of an exchange as it can accommodate children? Campaign to other residencies like Tyrone Guthrie that children be welcomed and catered for certain times each year.

• Flash mob – pick an opening and everyone bring their children.

• As part of college visits to group studios, include some home studios too to show alternative sites for art making to students.

• Request an adjoining room, facilities for conferences etc. (like children’s room in some churches)

• VAI include some extra questions in their next survey to gain a greater insight into some of these issues.

• Jason will write for the Visual Artists newssheet about this meeting. Another column may also become a possibility.

Next meeting:

• Seoidin o’ Sullivan to host a meeting relating to alternative approaches to child care for artists. A suggestion that this be part of Workers Café in Temple Bar at the end of October.

• Others encouraged to propose other themes, workshops, discussions.

One Reply to “Minutes from Meeting held on 3 September 2013: Perception of Mother/Artist”

  1. I am sorry I missed the meeting, seems like lots was discussed, and all relevant. I would love to come to next meeting, will it be In the morning? Ironically I could not go to last meeting because I have to collect my children from school! The detailed minutes are great, so I feel included in the discussions, which is so important when you are a mum and artist. Martina .

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