Artist's Jenny Laden’s creative priorities changed when she became a mom
Jenny Laden is a Solo Mom who paints and draws lively colorful portraits of people in which she captures their natural light and spirit. She currently resides in Philadelphia, where she was born and raised. Laden began painting at the age of nine, always loving the experience of drawing the human figure. In 1988, she moved to New York City to attend Barnard College, where she studied art and art history. After college, she remained in the city, where she worked at White Columns as a development associate and later as an assistant director. In 1996, she entered New York University (NYU) to earn her master’s degree in fine art. She has exhibited her work in New York; Chicago; Washington, DC; McLean, Virginia; Richmond, Virginia; Miami; Philadelphia; San Francisco; and Berlin.
Q: Was there a time in your childhood when you realized you would be an artist?
A: When I was nine. I saw a painting by Mary Cassatt and fell in love with everything about it. Then I took a life-drawing class, and I was hooked.
Q: You went to Barnard College and then to NYU for your MFA. Can you tell me about your art-education experience?
A: I always wanted to refine my art-making skills but also learn about the world—history, literature, science—so I chose to go to a liberal-arts college where I could major in studio art. Later, I chose NYU because of its strong faculty and [small-sized classes]. Also, this program emphasized multidisciplinary approaches (as opposed to majoring in one medium), allowing me to explore video while I continued making paintings, which expanded my work hugely.
Q: Tell me about your journey to becoming a mother.
A: I decided at the age of 33 to explore the possibility of having a baby on my own and gave myself until 36 to find a man to partner with, have a kid with, love. I didn’t meet that guy but didn’t want to wait anymore. I thought about how I might feel at the age of 50 having not even tried to have a child, and I knew I would regret it. So I proceeded with this endeavor and was pregnant in three months using a sperm donor. At 36, I became a “single mother by choice.”
At that point, I was working with the 4th gallery in New York City, where I’d been represented. I’d always done well selling paintings/drawings but felt an ever-growing discomfort with the art world. It was becoming more about glamour and less about creativity, message, emotion—all the reasons I love making art. At least that was my experience, and I found I didn’t have the right outlook to hang with that world. Maybe I was too idealistic, too much of a feminist, too sensitive. I don’t know; I just felt like I’d spent my life getting to a party and then when I got there, I realized it was just a bunch of assholes I didn’t want to be around. I cannot extricate my decision to have a baby with my disillusionment of my art career. Of course they are related; I just chose the baby path and didn’t think twice about it.
Q: How did becoming a mother impact your work as an artist? Your career? Your perception of yourself as artist/mother?
A: Having a child, especially on my own, has impacted my art making immensely. The constraints on time, energy, space, and money are enormous. On a broader meta-level, I also reevaluated why I was making art in the first place: Was it just for self satisfaction? Or for attention? Or because I was alone? Having a child radically shifted my view of everything, myself, and my priorities, especially. I simply had no interest in continuing to engage with the gallery scene and play that complex, frustrating game. Over time, my perception of myself has come to encompass mother, artist, friend, citizen, woman—all that—not defined by one aspect but a fuller whole, which is gratifying.
Q: How has that evolved as your daughter has gotten older? Have your priorities changed?
A: Now that my daughter is seven, I find I have more time and space to make art again. I work full time but have found a way to paint at night or during playdates on the weekend. My priorities are to survive now, rather than wander through life. I want to be a good role model for her, of a strong, capable woman who is independent, joyful, smart, and responsible, and who knows how to have fun.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: Recently I started painting my daughter, which led to portrait commissions, and this is a wonderful solution: getting paid to make paintings I love and doing it at my own pace, outside the gallery system but completely appreciated by my clients. It’s a win-win solution and doable within my constraints. It is a huge joy to be painting again, to handle materials, problem-solve, and create something I’m excited about—and on my own terms.
You can view some of Laden’s work below. For more of her work and to inquire about commissions, visit her website.
Photo credits: Jenny Laden
Meghan Gerety is an artist from New York City who currently lives in Marfa, Texas, with her seven-year-old son.
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