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Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann: Pianist, Composer, Wife, Mother, Grandmother.

September 13, 2012

Google has got me thinking today relative to the Romantic era and Victorian period pianist and composer Clara Josephine Wieck Schumann. By all accounts, this woman was amazing in many more ways than the one career facet that she is still famous for. Beyond her creative musical talents and application of them throughout her life, I became more narrowly focused in thought about the creativity in mothering. For a creatively talented mother, one creativity must give way to the other. I was thinking about all Clara gave up in life to give so unselfishly to others within her large family. She put away her own music to support her husband’s and raise their children and then also their grandchildren. She chose to give of herself, and of course it seems obvious that her creative pursuits suffered in that lengthy sacrifice.

As an artistic woman, wife, mother and grandmother who in the past has played some piano and played a little more in numerous other artistic pursuits (such as theater, dance, sketching, painting and writing), I know full well how much of that creative artistic passion must be put up on shelves (stuffed into a closet) when one’s children are younger and whilst wrangling visiting grandkids. Clara once lamented a little that women must not desire to compose (music) all the while she gave up believing in pursuing her own creative talents. Even her husband lamented that his wife’s many profound (musical composition) ideas were lost because she couldn’t work at her art regularly, being that she was so busy caring for and about him and their large family over time.

I have known many creative women who became wives and mothers and have thus faced the very real dilemma of choosing between using their creative powers for their children and family or for their artistic pursuits. You can’t really have it all, not all at once anyway. Not without a house husband or a nanny or someone like that to do your mothering work for you. Perhaps maid service, or more likely a ‘chief cook and bottle-washer’ all-work-maid could really help within the household to free up time for a creative woman in the midst of young motherhood; but still, children by their very nature are demanding of love and attention. It takes creative prowess to raise a brood well. To choose to mother is to choose to give up other important things in your life. Choosing the very best while giving up other good things.

Self sacrifice is needed for truly good mothering. Becoming an invested mother might not be conducive to career pursuits, but it does build character and gives children the full attention that they require and deserve from at least one of their parents. Now, maybe some women are far better at parsing and compartmentalizing themselves. Maybe a very few mothers can have it all at once. I never could. Yes, to have and nurture babies and children rewires our brains for amazing multitasking, but maybe that natural gift gets in the way of focusing on just one art. When I became a mother, I lost creative focus. With every baby, I lost more focus. Before I had a few kiddies underfoot, I was a fair watercolorist. When I tried to ride that specific bicycle again, I never got the touch back. That specialty is still on ice for me. My watercolorist self is still hiding in the closet, afraid to come out. Maybe I will do a ‘Grandma Moses’ with my watercolors one of these days, but for now, I fear to tread there where I once did very well.

Artists such as Mary Cassatt chose not to marry and have children because she believed that she must choose between her art and having the familial life. She had seen other female artists lose themselves, at least their artistic selves, by leaping into marriage with children. Domesticity swallowed up their canvas creativity. Mary painted other mothers and their children instead of marrying, becoming a mother and having her own children. She did beautifully in her painting career, but it saddens me to think that women can’t always seem to have everything along the way. Why not a husband, children AND the art too, each in their season? I’ve seen too many highly talented women trade their creative arts in for wife and motherhood, only to put their arts away forevermore. I definitely don’t mean to say that an artistic woman shouldn’t become a wife and mother, only that she should be aided in keeping a little of her art continually flexing so that she doesn’t lose her gifts and skills altogether over time.

Ideally, the husband and other extended family and friends could be helpful in helping the creatively artistic mother to keep up her talents from time to time, not to entirely put them away in a closet for a decade or two, then only to fear opening the door to what once was, when her mothering days are finally easing up on her time and attentions. Many artist mothers fear to tread where they once did well, when they want to get back at it again (such as when all their children are finally in school or out of the nest or whatever it may be that finally frees up some personal creative time for them). Most of the highly creative women that I know tend to become depressed when they don’t take the time to create, something. Yes, there are many creative outlets possible within domesticity, and nurturing children can certainly be one of them (mothering well takes creativity), but when artists hide their talents away from even themselves, they aren’t fulfilling the full true measure of their own creation. Particularly for an artistically creative woman, to create is to be.

Clara Wieck Schumann spoke of the joy of creation, and I submit to you that having and rearing children is another creative joy similar to that which Clara spoke of when speaking of composing her music. Once she was knee-deep in mothering, even though Clara was not able to continue creating music like she once did, I would imagine that she never begrudged the creative musical pursuits that she sacrificed for her children and grandchildren. What piece of music is more valuable than any baby? What artistic or any other thing, however amazing, is more important than any living human being?

What is my point is all this rambling? I almost forgot it myself. My point is that while I maintain that mothering trumps creating art, I hate to see creatively artistic mothers entirely forsake their arts. If they don’t have the wherewithal to continually pursue their arts in the midst of mothering, I encourage them to at least try to ride that horse again. When your children are grown, come back to your art. Create again. Compose again. Paint and play and write again. And when you push yourself to artistically create again, you will come to that art table with possibly more wisdom and potential courage than you would or could have had without having been a mother. Mothering is worth sacrificing your arts for, but come back to your arts when your mothering days wind down even a little. Everyone was born to create something, and while helping to create wonderful people for this planet is the worthiest, don’t forget to get back to your creative arts too if you can.

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