The Mother Artist

Portraits of Ambition, Limitation, and Creativity

The Mother Artist

Portraits of Ambition, Limitation, and Creativity

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Available April 16, 2024

Are caregiving and creative labor fundamentally at odds? Is it possible for mothers to attend to both?

Few women artists feature prominently in the history of art, and even fewer who are mothers. How are motherhood and artmaking at play and at odds in the lives of women? What can we learn about ambition, limitation, and creativity from women who persist in doing both?

Forged in the stress of early motherhood, The Mother Artist explores the fraught yet generative ties between caregiving and creative practice. As a young mother working at a museum, essayist Catherine Ricketts began asking questions about the making of motherhood and the making of art. Now, with incantatory prose and an intuitive gaze, she twines intimate meditations on parenthood with studies of the work and lives of painters, writers, dancers, musicians, and other creatives. Ricketts takes readers through the studios of mother artists, placing us in the company of women from the past and the present who persevere in both art and caregiving. We encounter Senga Nengudi's sculptures, which celebrate the pregnant body, and Toni Morrison's powerful writing on childbirth. We behold Joan Didion's meditations on maternal grief and Alice Neel's arresting portraits of mothers and babies. And we observe the ambition of sculptor Ruth Asawa, the activism of printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, and the constancy of writer Madeleine L'Engle. The Mother Artist welcomes us into a community of creatives and includes full-color images of their work.

Part memoir, part biography, and part inquiry into the visual, literary, and performing arts, The Mother Artist contends that a brutal world needs art made by those who have cared for the vulnerable. This book isfor mothers who aspire to make art, anyone eager to discover the stories of visionary women, and all who long for a revolution of tenderness.


"Chronicling the work and lives of mother artists, Catherine Ricketts has written a sprawling and glorious blueprint detailing the imaginative hows and urgent whys of maternal creativity. The Mother Artist is a hopeful, luminous answer to the question Can and should a mother still dream? A brilliant and openhearted gift of a book."

Rachel Yoder, author of Nightbitch

"Part art history, part memoir, part cultural critique, Catherine Ricketts's The Mother Artist is capacious, provocative, and utterly original. It's a delight to follow the rocket of Ricketts's gaze from, say, the floorboards in a Rineke Dijkstra photo, to a meditation on the author's own postpartum experiences, to an analysis of the politics of parental leave. The Mother Artist is enlightening and entertaining and urgent."

Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Great with Child

"This beautiful landscape of mother artists illuminates the way in which, in spite of the innumerable obstacles and grievances, motherhood has been a fertile ground for creativity. I'm thrilled that this book exists, and I think that every mammal interested in art should read it."

Jazmina Barrera, author of Linea Nigra

"A remarkable celebration of women's creative power. Ricketts demonstrates what we all gain when mothers make, and why we must support them. She masterfully weaves intimate personal stories with gorgeously rendered encounters of art. Her writing is generous, inspiring, hopeful, sensitive to the diversity of motherhood experiences, and downright beautiful. This is exactly the book I need now--a decade into motherhood--and it was the book I desperately needed when I became a mother. I want to buy it for every mother I know! And I encourage every artist to read it--it serves as inspiration for all artists seeking to create in the confines of their lives."

Heather Lanier, author of Raising a Rare Girl

"This marvelous book is, all at once, a work of curation, creativity, criticism, and care. Ricketts writes evocatively, as a witness, at the intersection of two creative vocations: motherhood and artmaking. Her vulnerability as a memoirist is deepened by her generous insight as a critic, opening up the work of others. The result is a strong but subtle apologia for why the world needs 'maternal humanism' today more than ever. Read this if you're a mother and an artist, to be sure; but read this, too, if you're human and hope for a different world."

James K. A. Smith, editor in chief, Image journal, and author of You Are What You Love and How to Inhabit Time

"These richly interwoven stories of artists' lives and the ways in which they have pursued their own paths of creativity through, with, and around the work of care and mothering were often new to me, even though I thought I was familiar with their work. In lucid and engrossing prose, Catherine Ricketts adds her own story to theirs with such clarity, both vulnerable and meaningful in how she shares her interior world. It reminded me of all the books I've loved of late--Julie Phillips's The Baby on the Fire Escape, Sarah Knott's Mother Is a Verb, and the best of Eula Biss."

Michelle Millar Fisher, coauthor of Designing Motherhood and curator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

"Reading The Mother Artist felt like being with the best kind of friend: brilliant and honest and deeply invested in your creativity. Its pages are packed with artists who inspire, challenge, and alter the world by being both mothers and artists. Ricketts is right: rather than impeding artmaking, motherhood has something to add to it, something holy and urgent. She asks, How might the art mothers create change a society so marred by brutality? The Mother Artist is a clarion call. The only reason you'll want to put down Ricketts's lyrical tour de force is to make more art."

Sarah Sentilles, author of Stranger Care

"I am changed. Skillfully traveling through the wisdom and stories of female artists, Catherine Ricketts has offered us a labor of both love and loss, grit and frailty. What is at stake in the heart of an artist as they become a mother? What is born in us? A necessary pilgrimage for all who dare to nurture, to care--for children, yes, and all who once were and have since hungered for the compassion and tenderness the world so often withholds."

Cole Arthur Riley, New York Times-bestselling author of This Here Flesh

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506488707
  • eBook ISBN 9781506488714
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 210
  • Publication Date April 16, 2024