January 30, 2016 by Cevan Castle
Rebeca Raney is a New York based artist and designer, an arts educator, and mom to a two year old. She is a voice of encouragement for artists considering children. During the recent Center for Parenting Artists event PLAY&GROUP 1: a picnic with New York composer Ithai Benjamin and his robotic puppets, generously presented by the CUE Art Foundation, I spoke with Rebeca about her creative practice and the continuation of studio work after the birth of her daughter. She shared her thoughts about being a parent in the arts.
You have continued to be a prolific artist, through pregnancy, through the birth of your child, and through the “nursery years”. Of your recent accomplishments and clients, I’m thinking in particular of a collaboration with Madewell, a solo show during Miami Basel, collaborations resulting in products from eyeglasses to wallpaper, a pop-up store in Soho, ambitious work in arts education, and Raneytown, a design firm in collaboration with your sister. Can you describe the basis of your multi-faceted creative practice? What interests and motivates you across so many outlets and mediums?
My motivation is always the same, to make my drawings into real things. I began as a painter that would suddenly make sculpture. I felt such a strong connection to the drawings that I made I wanted to wear what they wore and that opened me up to the idea of wearables and functional objects. I always felt like I was trying to create a world, and the more time I spent looking at consumer goods especially the covetous kind, I thought that what I could make would resonate with me more. Being multi-faceted has a lot to do with finding great collaborators. As much as I want to make real world things I can’t do this without experts. That’s why collaborations with Madewell and Selima Optique are instrumental to my process.
You’ve accomplished an amount of work that any artist would be pleased with, and you’ve done it while parenting a child under 3 years old. For many of us, this is a struggle. How have you managed to keep productivity so high?
I have been productive, but I would say that I am playing a long game when it comes to being profitable. I’ve made friendships that have helped me enormously. I don’t think it is possible to be productive without trusted friends and collaborators. I seek people out that inspire me and I try to be very generous in turn. This philosophy was true before I was a parent, but I will say that I now have less time and less tolerance for snark and corruption.
“While I was pregnant, I felt like I was magic and I would laugh because what I was doing was not special, not original. We were all born.”
Have there been periods where you felt your levels of productivity slow? Did they correspond with particular points in your child’s development?
I have had productivity slow to the point where I just had good ideas flitting about my brain but never even getting written down. My daughter’s arrival was a shock to my brain. I think it is so weird, being a creative person, to have the person you make be the best thing you ever make, and to feel that on a cellular level. While I was pregnant, I felt like I was magic and I would laugh because what I was doing was not special, not original. We were all born. I gained a great sense of humilty during this time because I would feel powerful and then overwhelmed, totally inspired and then more exhausted than ever before. It was crazy making and very funny. The best thing I did for myself was not care about the art ideas that I was unable to pin down at this time. I let them evaporate and I figured if they were really good they might visit me in my sleep.
What advice would you give to parents about managing these frustrating periods?
My advice would be:
1. Do not condemn yourself if you are not making your work. (Nobody really minds.)
2. Find a pencil and paper and write ALL your ideas down. Writing them in your smart phone will leave no tangible evidence. Let this be your art for a while.
Did having a child change the way that you approach your work?
Having a child has changed the way I approach my work because, before her, I was immortal in my head and I had my own (endless) time to put my art together. My daughter has given me a framework for understanding my values. I love drawing so much and so for me that is my essential studio practice. The rest of what I make is for fun and I look forward to showing her that having fun is a totally worthwhile pursuit.
Your partner- New York composer Ithai Benjamin- and you work together to provide care for your child during your work week. Have you devised any systems to share the responsibility of care, so that you both have time to work? Have you found successes, frustrations, or compromises?
We jointly took care of our daughter and never successfully found a third party caregiver. I think both Ithai and I have a weird hindsight about this. We don’t think we were wrong but it was hard and given both of our freelance work schedules it was never equitable. Our daughter is now in school three days a week and we are much, much happier having joint free time. I have always been someone who didn’t work late at night and I sometimes find myself working very late at night and texting with Mom friends who are also awake.
“I have this sense that a lot of what we focus on isn’t helpful, truthful, or sincere in its purpose.”
Have you made any discoveries about managing both parenting and career responsibilities, or has anything surprised you?
I am significantly more patient now that I am a parent. I am always helped out with my stroller in the subway and these impromtu encounters with strangers make me feel like I can also talk to anybody. I also have this perverse sense of silliness that is now in my mind so that things like email urgency, meetings, other people’s agendas have significantly less meaning to me. I wouldn’t say that I don’t care but I have this sense that a lot of what we focus on isn’t helpful, truthful, or sincere in its purpose. I’m surprised by how much this relaxes me and makes me feel unburdened.
Have there been any barriers that you’ve discovered, in terms of your participation in the arts, while being a parent?
I haven’t encountered specific barriers but I would say that a lot of being a parent involves looking inward at your own decisions and your family unit, and it is easy to get very lost in this tiny myopic world. I think we create barriers by deciding not to participate because we are so immersed in our family love and drama. My own ambition kind of floats away from me and right now I am feeling newly selfish because I believe that what serves me as an artist will help my family.
Has having a child changed the way you think about your work in the arts?
My whole brain got a kind of hormonal scrub and I now have this kind of happy-go-lucky, laissez-faire attitude. This is coupled with financial needs that are much larger than they ever were. Having a child was the final seal on how I saw myself as both an educator and an artist. I consider myself wholly both and having a child has made me more compassionate with the youth I serve. I don’t think about money when it comes to selling my artwork because it is often in the hands of an art dealer. I place greater value on art education and have had no qualms about demanding and getting more money because I know my worth. I believe in a kind of feast and famine with my own art work in terms of productivity, exhibitions, and sales. I don’t let this rattle me and I don’t worry about the super success of others.
Do you feel that it is important for artists with children to continue their work?
It is very sad to think about artists with or without children no longer making work. The work probably will change and being resistant to this change may lead to a kind of curse. Artists who give up making work because of a lack of time, money, and inspiration can change the work that they make to overcome these obstacles. It is very hard. The definition of what it means to be an artist is totally wide-open. More parenting artists should embrace that freedom.
“If you truly do not have time to make your work you may want to look closely at the work you are avoiding. Is it possible that that work is actually heinous and insufferable? I think with limited time we have to figure out what work is thrilling to make.”
What advice would you give to artists with small children, in terms of sustaining their practice?
Your children will only be small for a few years. This time is actually very short. Do not forget about your good ideas; write them down. Have fun. Do not place yourself in isolation. Look closely at your practice and have studio visits. If you truly do not have time to make your work you may want to look closely at the work you are avoiding. Is it possible that that work is actually heinous and insufferable? I think with limited time we have to figure out what work is thrilling to make. I know that in the time I was not in my studio working when I was nursing my new baby and sleeping and doing chores I avoided making some really lousy work. I also was happy with the weird-o stuff that I did manage to make. Whatever you do for money, ask for and expect more.
You can find more about the artist at these links:
PLAY&GROUP 1 was presented on January 30, 2016 by the CUE Art Foundation: