Art and marriage
August 29, 2014
Today would have been my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. They married in a friend's garden in 1964, then
flew to Amsterdam, bought a Volkswagen van and drove to Southern Spain to live on love and olives. My dad painted the Spanish coast and villages. My mom set up a small gallery in a local hotel and met all the tourists who passed through. I've been told that when they'd built up a significant bank balance, nationalist authorities came knocking and politely asked them to move along. They drove north, then further north, and eventually rowed a boat to Christina Fjord, Norway.
Every ten years or so, and several times in the last few months, I've re-read a memoir my father wrote, his first published book at age 44, which includes stories of a beginning artist's fits and starts along with juicy tidbits. I still use it for encouragement in dodgy times, and there's a chapter on my mom.
To some artists, marriage is a little suspect. By common perception, they might feel too child-like or have a single-minded focus or just have a stubborn love of the open road. By marrying, the love affair might fall into traps of domestic responsibility or an all-consuming distraction from creative work. But the powerful pallet of support and companionship can be a stabilizer. Marriage has the growing-up moments and the times of bliss and comfort, and it can also provide the motivating circumstances for creativity. The muse in marriage can be especially rewarding, even if at times it seems hard to find. Story has it that 1950s housewife Grace Metalious wrote Peyton Place from under the basement stairs, with a baby and no money. Her first novel remained on the New York Times bestseller list for 59 weeks.
Companionship may compromise solo travelling and the delicious periods of uninterrupted creativity and production that often come from it, but would companionship also be to blame for fallow times? I once listened to a singer/songwriter belt out a tune for his new girlfriend: he complained of being artistically washed up because he was so contented. Perhaps the heart's new responsibility endangers our languid days of cloud-gazing and productive days of workaholism. When observing my parents, though, I noticed how a partnership can provide the glue of balance and accountability through nurturing, grit and selflessness. The long haul is something to behold: One of my parents was making paintings almost every day, while the other was doing almost everything else.
My dad praised my mom for their life and teamwork. Along with providing a civilized deck for art and life to materialize, my mother drove her children to every piano lesson. Today, for her wedding anniversary, she celebrates in New York City with me and Peter, whom I married last October. Like art, marriage is for me the summoning of courage to expose and share those private days of wonder.
PS: "Whenever someone asks me what I mix my paint with, I usually answer 'love.' If you can put a little love into it you can't go wrong, and during this period of my life love was in plentiful supply. I would work in my studio on Pender Street during the week, come home for dinner, go to plays or concerts in the evening and spend a lot of time with Carol. Kahlil Gibran said, 'Work is love made visible.' This seemed true at the time, and it has an even deeper meaning for me now." (Robert Genn)
Esoterica: Artists debate whether the constancy of marriage hinders creative growth: Are artists especially difficult to be married to? Do they make good family people? Should artists marry other artists? Or are we better off going it alone, marrying non-artists or even administrators who may satisfy a supporting role in the creative process? Perhaps the answer is as individual as we are, and marriage and art can be looked at as one. "As we grow older, we realize just how limiting were our earlier conceptions," said Dad. "Art is something else. Art is fluid, transmutable, open-ended, never complete, and never perfect. Art is an event."
Sign up Free for the Robert & Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letter. You'll get the valuable twice-weekly letter and be joining the world's most active art community.