by Cristin Zimmer
Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, Georgia O’Keeffe, Lillian Hellman, Emily Dickenson. Not one of these creative forces in the arts had a child.
Sure their influential work continues to inspire, and as a 30-year-old graduate student in fine art, I can only hope for as much success. But there’s something about their lives that scares me. Am I looking at women who had to choose between having a family or having a career?
I grew up long after the Women’s Liberation Movement and never felt the weight of gender as an obstacle to my dreams. But on the brink of a career as a sculptor–and also beginning to feel my biological clock start to tick– having it both ways seems more daunting each day.
These iconic artists’ lives only support the unfavorable statistics toward women in the arts. An astonishing 80 percent of graduate students nationally enrolled in MFA programs are female, while between 70-80 percent of artists represented by major galleries and museums in the U.S. are male. Why the disparity? Is it possible to have it all, a career and a healthy life as a mother? How do you remain true to yourself and your dreams while considering the needs and wishes of your family?
These are the tough questions that director/producer? Pam Boll explores in 2008’s Who Does She Think She Is. The 82-minute documentary film follows five female artists, all working in different mediums, uncovering how women precariously balance mothering and their need to create. The women Boll intimately examines have no super powers, nor do their stories always have happy endings. Yet these women’s lives reveal a profound sense of hope that they are not alone in feeling overwhelmed, or guilty at not wanting to choose. The film also offers examples of the many paths a female artist’s career may take among beautiful vignettes of families large and small.
Around 500 women attended my first screening of the film at a conference for ceramic artists. The film ended and a line to ask Boll questions immediately formed, wrapping around the room and out the hall door. Except it wasn’t really questions asked as much as comments made like the one I heard from a teary eyed woman: “I thought I was the only one who felt this way,” she said, “I could relate to every single one of these women’s struggles, thank you so much for making this film.”
I returned home to my husband and our two dogs–ones I often feel guilty about not spending enough time with–and had gained perspective on the stakes in raising a family and starting an artist’s career. And though it didn’t settle any anxieties, the film helped me begin to grasp the everyday inspiration that might just make it work.
Who Does She Think She Is will be screening at the UMFA’s Dumke theatre Wednesday January 20th at 3 pm. Director Pam Boll will attend the screening and take questions afterwards.