Mothering as Art Practice

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I spend quite a bit of my time talking to artist teachers, and artists with other jobs, about the connections between life and practice, and having to make time for the practice. There is the notion that an extra slot of time has to be found, at the sacrifice of something else, in order to make art, to be an artist. My philosophy over the last ten years has grown into the idea that there is no separation, and that this state is to be aimed for…

This morning I have made some chocolate orange cookies.

(Oooh…. I shall include the recipe below so you can make them too!)

As I smash the softened butter into the sugar, and beat hell out of it, I enter a state of reverie:

The last time I made these particular cookies I was still working in school. I often baked for my colleagues, any excuse to make something into a special occasion. Mothering. Nurturing.

I start thinking about my own mother’s penchant for baking, and the fact it was an activity we joyfully did together when I was a child, and we swapped recipes as I became an adult and moved away from home, visits accompanied by the latest recipe to be tasted and judged, on taste, and frequently whether it was worth the hassle. Anything more than two bowls and two spoons considered a “Faff”, the taste of which had to compensate for the effort.

As I now rapidly approach the age that my mother was when I got married, I see the baking from different perspectives. I was the baby of the family, 8 yrs younger than my closest sibling. With two growing men, and one very strong hard-working agricultural worker in the household, calories and carbohydrates were important. My equally hard working mother was charged with the duty to provide for this. I am now aware that the earning capacity of my parents probably was not that high. I wasn’t then. Blissfully unaware! The only thing that made me think was that Jessica P. had her gingham dresses from Marks and Spencer, and mine were home made. My mum managed to spin this into a tale of how sorry I should be for Jessica because her mum was incapable of making hers. Don’t get me started on itchy home knit cardigans!

Potatoes, bread, cakes, home grown veg were plentiful. I managed to grow big and strong, very well fed thank you. Being fed well was a synonym for love. Mothering. Nurturing.

My art practice has grown directly from this, my “career” in a wide range of settings, has always had an element of nurturing, care, education, even when I resented and rejected education for a while. As soon as I had my own sons, their nurturing, education, experience of the world was paramount. I truly believe now that they were my art practice then. I thought about the world through them, about what sort of adults they should be. The experiences I provided for them were not of the generic Marks and Spencer’s variety, but the home knitted variety. Parties were at home, with jelly, not at McDonald’s with “happy” meals (sorry, can’t do it without quotation marks).

Since my sons have both reached adulthood, and now both parents and parents-in-law have all died, my art practice seeks to examine this relationship, the effects we humans have on each other, and how we are in the world. The baking of chocolate and orange cookies, my examination and rumination of my childhood memories is therefore all part of that practice. The memories are possibly skewed by later experiences, and no doubt remembered differently by my family, but those differences are interesting don’t you think?

My “career” (actually, I could happily remove those quotation marks if you consider a different meaning of career. I have careered about, crashing into people and experiences until coming to an exhausted pause…) My career then, has been so far, one of helper, parent, carer, mentor, teacher, partner, friend. My career and my art practice is always about the relationships… the mothering and nurturing, and sometimes the lack of that.

So, as I talk to new students about where they locate their practice, I encourage them to look at the place they are already in. There is evidence there of the makings, they just have to recognise, acknowledge, and publicly state which are the important bits to them. That…. that’s the tricky bit.

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CHOCOLATE ORANGE COOKIES
(one bowl, two spoons)

250g butter – softened
50g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
300g self-raising flour
2- 4 tablespoons milk
1 Terry’s chocolate orange chopped, but not too small

Preheat oven to 180 deg, or 160 deg in a fan oven, Gas 4
Beat hell out of the butter and sugar, with wooden spoon.
Add the flour, with 2 spoons of milk, adding more if required to bring the dough together.
Add the chocolate and stir in till evenly distributed.
Break off pieces of dough about as big as a golf ball, you should get about 24
Bake for 8-10 mins, keep an eye on them at the end, as they can suddenly turn to the dark side!

This cookie dough is really good, I have substituted the choc orange for all manner of fresh and dried fruit, nuts, and different chocolate and chunks of fudge/toffee too… or just had them plain, if the cupboard is bare!

mother… nurture…

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