Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mandelbrots and Marriage.

Making art can be addictive. When I say "addictive", I don't use the term lightly. I mean that making art can often consume an artist, to the exclusion of other people, especially the people who are closest in their lives. At the risk of hammering that cliché to death--"art is a jealous mistress"--I was wondering if other people can relate to my experience with frustrated spouses.

After almost ten years of marriage, my husband and I cannot stand to be away from each other very long. This next may sound like treacle, but we really cannot live without one another. We never tire of talking to one another--besides lovers, we are best friends--and talk about stuff and nonsense for happy hours on end. Our happiest hours are spent sitting on our Vermont porch with a pot of Vermont Green Mountain freshly ground coffee, and "cussin' and discussin" (as he would say with his Texan drawl) for hours. The fly in the ointment? My art.

When I am making art, I want--no, need-- to be left alone. Sometimes, this phase lasts for not just hours, but days. Maybe a week. Anything that takes me away from it is an unwanted intrusion. The process--for me--is almost like going into a deep fugue, where I cannot hear or see anyone. Voices wanting something from me sound like ghostly echoes on a tinny radio station---I want to shut the radio off. The only thing I see is what I am working on, and everything else fades into the background--unreal, amorphous. Understandably, my husband has been resentful and frustrated during these periods. In turn, I would be unapologetic and insensitive. I resented his resentment. And I would not, could not, put the art aside when in the throes of the process. I am not proud of this, but his frustration would often result in me withdrawing even further. Then I'd complete the piece, everything would go back to normal--until a new piece began or I revisited an old piece because I wasn't happy with it.

Since my art now pays our mortgage, this has abated somewhat, but it never really went away. It is always there, like a freshly snuffed candle that quickly reignites. Do any of you have this problem? If so, how have you dealt with it? Or am I just a lousy, selfish wife?


Blogger Philip Northover said...

One thought is to schedule in advance, an agreed upon time of several hours, when of course significant-other would be free to do whatever he's interested in.

After several hours, it's probably time for a break anyway, but does art work to a schedule? :-)

8/16/2006 9:56 AM

Blogger Tim said...

I think this is a very common problem among creative, artistic people, and can conflict with more things than just a marriage relationship (friends, family, work, cats even).

I would say that creative activity, whether it's making visual art or music or writing, is a "binge" thing. So I think both the artist and the spouse need to accept that as part of the artist's behaviour, which is to say, it's normal for an artist to work that way.

Interruptions are like opening the oven every minute to take a look: nothing gets baked; nothing comes to fruition.

Perhaps what the spouse really wants is just some predictability, and making some policies might help. For instance: have a policy that if you work extra long on something then you take an extra long break afterwards (extra hours, extra days...).

Another suggestion, have special "together" times away from the house, that is, away from the computer --the computer, that digital siren that calls out our name and draws us back to another binge...! Designate certain days or times as no computer, meaning don't get started doing anything. Once you get started, you're into another binge and you won't want to stop. I think it's like a Jekyl and Hyde thing.

I'm an amateur artist and also a stay at home dad, so I'm quite familiar with dealing with those hated interruptions (I hate baby monitors, I used to love it when the batteries would go dead). I used to take the evenings to do my fractal thing, but I've learned (or maybe my wife taught me!) to be more balanced and flexible. Sometimes interruptions will give you a needed break and you come back to your work with fresh, or rested, insight.

Sometimes you lose something, but we need our marriage more than we our artwork.

One other thing. I think in our culture there still exists some unfair expectations of women. People are still less accepting of women in general, and married women in particular, having "personal" interests. When the wife is the artist, this adds some additional tension, I think. The husband feels cheated and the wife feel guilty. But if the roles were reversed, people would just say, "That's the way it is married to someone with great talent."

8/16/2006 1:37 PM

Blogger Keith said...

I don't like to be interrupted either. I get in a groove and I need to stay there. But interruptions are a way of life at my house and many times they are good because my groove could be heading in the wrong direction. I always benefit from a break in the trance.

The negative impacts at home can be very real. I am happy to say that this summer I have been able to shift my focus away from the computer. That's a big deal after years of obsession

8/16/2006 2:44 PM

Blogger SuZeeMay said...

I too have the same issue in my home. We have been married for over 35 years and I have always had 'passions' that involve me totally. It is who I am - who he married.
I am a huge believer in every person having a hobby or at the very least, an interest - something that gives them a focus.
A hobby/passion is often an isolating thing, but its beauty is that it gives each person something uniquely their own to share with the other.
The problem with computers is that they involve such total focus and quite literally you turn your back on the other person.
Knitting for example is a side by side hobby. As is reading and watching tv.
Computers takes you not only away from the other person but into another world - all encompassing and completely, overwhelmingly fascinating.
Therein lies the true threat to a marriage.
Computers can create a menage a trois! I need Computer Rehab!

8/16/2006 10:36 PM

Blogger Kerry Mitchell said...

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes a condition of being so involved in something that you lose track of time as "flow." I've lost entire weekends at the computer, which (literally) explains why I'm not married. My passion for my math and art has been quite a challenge for a few of my romantic relationships--those whose don't have something in which they can lose themselves don't often understand those of use who do.

I think each couple has to figure this out on their own, through a combination of compromise and realistic assessment of each partner's needs.


8/17/2006 1:50 AM

Blogger John S. Meade said...

Relationships like the fractal stuff we do are all about canvases and pallettes.

When it comes to fractals -- well you already know about the screen == canvas and the apomap == pallette stuff.

When it comes to maintaining a significant other, the canvas is the dual collectivity of the physical environment (ie warm and occaionally writhing bodies) the pallette is the mind driven by the need to satisfy the canvas (gee! just like doing our Art!)

Your relationship is your main art. Equalize it(or in otherwords nuetralize by satifying) And the rest (and the time) will materialize to practice your magic gifts (fractal expression).

Speaking from successful experience here.

8/17/2006 9:20 AM

Blogger peapodgrrl said...

Thank you, everyone, for your feedback. It is very appreciated, and I took much of it to heart.

8/17/2006 2:13 PM


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