On Motherhood, an artist statement

In the United States, mothers and children are marginalized, even though we represent a large consumer market. Our leadership work as mothers is undervalued and unpaid. Artists are often are treated similarly. We have held onto our visions as children do, insist on speaking our minds and do the work we love. Our work as artists is often not well compensated in comparison to other commercial markets of similar size and scope.

Female art students are often told in art school “if you want to be considered as a serious artist, don’t have children.” In the traditional model of being an artist, one’s life must be consumed by art making. Raising children is also all consuming. And yes, it has changed my life as an artist dramatically. I am more focused, organized, energized, inspired and determined to tell my story of being a professional artist and a “good mom.” My son shows me the world anew and I notice my own limited adult views.

My son has now gone off to college and I am entering a next stage of motherhood. A friend told me that raising my son to be a sensitive, caring, loving young man who wants to contribute and “pay it forward,” was my best creative act.

First Comes Love

Explores the myth of the middle-class American dream. I am interested in the relationships between men and women as they attempt to reconcile this myth with the reality of day-to-day life. Using found, domestic objects that are coded with cultural meaning and gender stereotypes, I transform the objects with images and text to give insight into the narrative of quotidian life.

Life in Diapers

A set of 40 painted cloth diapers chronicles my first year with my son. I chose diapers as my canvas because of their cultural symbolism. We often speak of raising children as being an endless job of changing diaper after diaper. Using diapers as a primary art material serves to honor our parents who changed all of our diapers.

Our Mother Mary Found

While living in Italy in 2000, I noticed that the images and ideals of the Virgin Mary were woven into the fabric of Italian culture. I began to look deeper into the iconic symbolism of the “Madonna.”

Our Mother Mary Found re-interprets Christianity by personifying Mary’s life as a Jewish mother. I recognized that Mary’s Jewish identity could open a new approach to interfaith dialogue. The sacredness of a mother’s love goes beyond religion, emphasizing humanity as the foundation of these two world religions.

This collection of ten rustic household tools, found in Italy, illustrate my personal Jewish interpretation of the archetypal story of Mary. Each hand-hewn object was chosen for its shape, function or symbolism to represent an episode in Mary’s legendary story as depicted in Italian paintings of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. A Jewish prayer, excerpted from an 18th century Italian prayer book,* is gilded in Hebrew, English and Italian on each object. These prayers reflect the chapters in Mary’s life as she raised her son in the Jewish tradition.

Images of Mary hands, drawn from historical Italian paintings, are also rendered in gold leaf on each object to illuminate them. Mary’s hands give symbolic form to the traditional narrative of maternal love and devotion. In researching the Italian paintings, I noticed that the hand gestures communicated a recognizable pattern of edifying human emotions. Our Mother Mary Found juxtaposes these historic visual codes against the more pragmatic reality of a woman whose daily labor as a mother and faithful Jew gave birth to a prophet and nurtured a revolutionary.

* A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman, written in the year 5546 (1786) for Mrs. Yehudit Kutscher Coen and presented by Giuseppe Coen. Edited and translated as Out of the Depths I Call to You, by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin © 1995, 1992, Jason Aronson, Inc. Publishers.

Out of the Frying Pan

Seven frying pans are hung from men’s belts. Text from The Total Woman, written by Marabel Morgan in 1970 as a response to the feminist movement, is sandblasted into round mirrors stuck in the pan. As viewers read the text, they will see themselves in the mirrors. I ask them to take a look at how much has changed and improved as a result of feminism, and to consider how much remains the same within the male/female relationship.

more about Beth…

Beth Grossman is a socio-political artist, who sees the visual as a way to create community dialog. Her art is a comfortable point of entry into the ongoing dialog about ‘correct’ history, the life-shaping force of religion and the power of social beliefs. The artist takes creative liberty with these charged topics and makes them accessible with beauty and humor. By shifting the context of familiar objects, words and images, she opens them up for fresh examinations that are by turn playful, stimulating and thought provoking.
Grossman’s search for simple truths in collective memory has led her to illuminate personal stories. For her, art is not a thing, but a way to communicate. It is the importance of that dialogue that her artworks, public projects and events are intended to foster.