On a recent occasion, I met a friend, a successful business owner, for coffee. His wife is a painter, but she hasn’t painted recently, and this is making them both very uneasy. True, he said, her art making has been disrupted these past few years by obligations to family and by the demands of both their jobs. She makes good money teaching art but of course, his business must be the priority and he depends on her helping him at need.
However, she’s had an extensive art education, she’s an expert in her technique and imagery, she has produced works of great mastery and beauty in the past, AND she often has plenty of time in the evenings. Yet she doesn’t paint, after supper she sits in her studio by the kitchen, staring at blank canvases but not producing. This makes her both frustrated and depressed, affecting even their otherwise solid relationship.
“What,” he asked, “can I do to help her?”
Well, back we go to the question of the artistic process. I said:
“You don’t forget how to run a business if you stop doing it for a long period of time. However, getting back to it after a hiatus doesn’t mean that you are the person you were. What makes you successful at it is CONTINUIITY. You’ve been focused on it for five, six, seven years, you make it your priority and your family’s, you’re on top of developments in your field, you’re right there when an opportunity presents itself or a promising contact is made, you are eager to create new outlets for your business and spend considerable time with your wife’s help creating them, you are ‘in it to win it’ as they say. You don’t just do your work in your’ free’ time in the evenings; chances are you continue it.
“Yet, you expect ‘your wife’ to sustain a serious, professional practice on a part-time, when-I-can-spare-you time. How is that even logical? You are a businessman, you know what it takes to succeed at an endeavour, how can you be surprised that she doesn’t? I suspect you are aware but in denial of the reasons.
“There are only two possible answers to your question.
“One: while you say you value your wife’s talent, while you assert that you support her in her work, while you pressure her to ‘be productive’, you actually believe and communicate that her art is a quaint pastime, something she can easily shelf for awhile and be none the worse for it. That has to change. It will perhaps fly against all your social conditioning to put your wife’s profession on a par with your own, especially given that you believe yours is more profitable, but that is what you must do. You must respect and support her professional needs as she does yours.
“Two: you are unconsciously and inadvertently manipulating her sense of loyalty/responsibility and her insecurity as a businessperson to sabotage her independence. You know her, you know her ability to focus, you are aware that once engaged, her attention to her work is totally dedicated - indeed, her practice demands that level of commitment. The only way you can be sure she is at your side is to be constantly in need of her and to keep her looking to the future by promising she will get to her business ‘soon’ but postponing when that ‘soon’ will become ‘now’. I
“f you don’t want her to reach her limit, and from your question I sense that she is very close to it, that ‘soon’ has to be ‘now’, no more delaying tactics.
“The fact is that without painting, she is at most 50% of who she really is. Deprived of her art, she deprives you of that essential part of herself, the creative and imaginative self, the engaged and optimistic self. The longer she is without it, the more she will lose energy, interest in and enthusiasm for her life. Love will be subsumed by her frustration, anger, resentment, and if she loves you too much to make demands of you, if she’s too empathetic to your needs, if she doesn’t leave you, she will nevertheless withdraw the rest of her from you and your love for her will wither. She will not remain the person you knew. Your husband/wife relationship will go the way of so many others and neither of you will thrive.
"How can you help her? The same way she helps you. You can help her by listening to what she needs and standing with her as she strives and achieves it."