Do Children Hold Female Artists Back?

Hein Koh

Artist mama Instagram In case you can’t see what Hein Koh wrote beneath this epic photo, here is what she says…


“#tbt 5/19/15 when my twins were 5 weeks old and despite the sleep deprivation and frequent (every 2-3 hours, 24-7, 45 min at a time) breastfeeding, I was still getting shit done. Marina Abramovic thinks children hold women back in the art world, but as @dubz19 put so aptly, “FUKKK THAT”. All Marina knows is her own experience, and it may be true for her, but that is not everyone’s experience nor truth. Becoming a mom (of twins no less) has personally helped me become a better artist – I learned to be extremely efficient with my time, prioritize what’s important and let go of the rest, and multitask like a champ. I learned to function (even if barely) on very little sleep, and out of the chaos, insanity and even torture at times, a flood of new emotions entered into my work, becoming more interesting & layered as a result. I’m also not saying that artist parents are better artists than non-parent artists, or that choosing not to be a parent will deny you access to these learning experiences. What I am saying is that parenting is like any other challenge in life – the biggest fucking challenge in my own life thus far – and if you embrace it and figure out creative solutions, you can emerge a better person. It’s important to think about the ways in which these challenges can help you move forward, rather than hold you back.


Marina Abramovic


The interview she is referring to is Marina Abramovic’s conversation with The Observer entitled, I Had Three Abortions Because Children Hold Female Artists Back. Quite a bold statement, but not as compelling as it would have been had it been made by an actual mother. There are many reasons why I’ve never seen an artist mom make that statement publicly: a) she would be butchered as if she were Casey Anthony; and b) as Hein Koh articulates above, there are deep and surprising creative benefits of being a mother.


The truth is, Marina Abramovic will never really know if having children would have held her back. She can only speculate based on her external perspective of artists and mothers at the time that she made her choice (she is 70 after all). I’d like to think that Hein Koh’s perspective is the more common belief today, but I don’t really know.


This is perhaps the core of what makes becoming an artist mom so difficult — unlike art, or marriage, or anything else in life really, you can’t really know what it’s like for you without doing it, and once you do it, you can’t undo it. You can’t just try out being a mom and then say, “no, thanks, this is holding me back too much. I’m gonna choose something different.” Motherhood is the ultimate sliding door.


There’s no other way to decide but to sit with the choice and listen to your innermost voice, the voice that only arises out of the deepest silence, and see what that voice has to say. If I know anything about Marina Abramovic, I believe that this is what she did in order to come to her decision.


Here’s what else I know: if a woman wants to be a mother, and she also wants to be a world-renowned artist, then she should be able to do both of those things. If a woman wants to be an artist and have no children, then she should do that. If a woman wants to be a mother and not practice her art, she should do that. Women should do whatever the fuck they want to do without being persecuted or discriminated against for her choice. That’s feminism to me.


Children don’t hold female artists back, patriarchy does. The last line of Marina’s interview speaks volumes to this. She says, “There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They’re called men.” The only words I have in response to this are hashtags: #partoftheproblem #noimagination #wecandobetter.


Children don't hold female artists back, patriarchy does. #MarinaAbramovic Click To Tweet


What do you think of Marina Abramovic’s POV vs. Hein Koh’s POV? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.