|Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema|
This is Our Corner (Portrait of Laurense and Anna Alma-Tadema), 1873
22¼ X 18½ in.
oil on wood
“If you are alone you belong entirely to yourself. If you are accompanied by even one companion you belong only half to yourself or even less in proportion to the thoughtlessness of his conduct and if you have more than one companion you will fall more deeply into the same plight.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
The above quote has often been used as a justification as to why Leonardo da Vinci never had children (suppositions about his sexual orientation placed aside). I have heard a similar quote attributed to Leonardo which, paraphrased, states, ""If you wish to be an artist, do not have children. If you have one child, you will be half an artist; two or more, and you will be no artist at all."
As a parent of three young boys, I constantly worry about my role of parent to my actual children, and my symbolic role of parent to my creations (i.e. my paintings). Both groups need a lot of attention from me, and the balancing act between the two requires a constant vigilance; it is easy to favor one side over the other (my boys are the typical winners - it's no coincidence that this blog started right around the birth of my second child, and that my easel began gathering dust between visits to the studio at about the same time).
I worry constantly about the message I am sending my children. Like my own parents, my wife and I have made sacrifices in our careers for our children. Children of creatives are often creative themselves - the many children of N.C. Wyeth, who became either artists, or scientists and inventors, are a good example of this - and we hope that, should our boys wish to pursue the arts, that they will not feel at any time that they must give up their dreams. Yet, in many ways, that is the example we are providing them (neither my wife nor I ended up doing exactly what we had wanted in the arts). If we did not make those sacrifices, however, would we be isolating ourselves to the company of our muses, and thus making ourselves unavailable to our kids?
This circular argument has made me respect both the artists who choose to be parents at a certain risk to their art, and those who chose not to be parents because they fear they could not fit that role adequately while remaining an artist. It is a struggle either way.
|A rare photograph of Laurence Alma-Tadema.|
In most pictures she is overshadowed by her father's presence.
Because of this subject, Laurence (née Laurense) Alma-Tadema (1865-1940) has been on mind lately. She was an English playwright, poet, novelist, and lecturer in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and if her name sounds familiar, it is because she was the eldest child of her more famous artist-father, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Laurence's 1897 poem, "If No One Ever Marries Me," is likely her most well-known work, having been set to music several times, most recently by Natalie Merchant on her album, "Leave Your Sleep."
If no one ever marries me,—
And I don’t see why they should,
For nurse says I’m not pretty,
And I’m seldom very good—
If no one ever marries me
I shan’t mind very much;
I shall buy a squirrel in a cage,
And a little rabbit-hutch:
I shall have a cottage near a wood,
And a pony all my own,
And a little lamb quite clean and tame,
That I can take to town:
And when I’m getting really old,—
At twenty-eight or nine—
I shall buy a little orphan-girl
And bring her up as mine.
Laurence never did marry, nor have children, adopted or otherwise (neither did her younger sister, painter Anna Alma-Tadema). She enjoyed a successful writing career, and was active in her community, having a theatre constructed in Kent which she named the "Hall of Happy Hours," where children could learn handicrafts, and villagers could attend concerts and plays.¹ I sometimes wonder, however, what lessons she learned from her father (and her stepmother, artist Lady Laura Alma-Tadema), and if Laurence never married or had issue as an unfortunate outcome of the dynamics within her childhood home, or if it was a deliberate act by a woman who wanted nothing to come between her and her muse.
¹ Merchant, Natalie, Leave Your Sleep Digital Booklet, (Nonesuch Records, New York, 2010), pp. 28-29.