In spite of media attempts to render childfree and childless couples invisible, a glimpse beyond popular rhetoric reveals that some of the most enduring artistic icons of modern culture were created by couples who deliberately opted not to produce children. Couples in which both partners are equally serious about producing art are most often childfree.
Reading about creative couples making mature decisions about childrearing is refreshing. And, particularly so now, with current media attention paid to new conservative religious groups, such as Quiver Full, and The Learning Channel with a reality show about the Duggar's, the couple with 19 (and counting...) kids. Parents in these Evangelical groups bear multitudes of children to bolster pre-indoctrinated populations - attempting to out populate non-believers - a disturbing and blatant form of brainwashing and eugenics.
Reading about artist couples, and looking at their timeless works of art, renews my belief in the sanity and beauty of humanity. Some of these couples faced serious problems in their lives and marriages - ultimately choosing to not bring children into the world only to impact them negatively through emotional strife. Others wanted children but were not able to have them. Still, they didn't give up on their lives and pursued alternative outlets for their creative energy.
The following couples built marriage partnerships based on common values, hard work, and a belief that art can bring something beautiful, lasting and enduring to the world. Works of art are offspring that persist through many generations. Our stridently pro-natalist culture could be deepened a bit if people gave pause for a moment and thought of the many ways in which creative endeavors, other than bearing children, bring meaning and delight to the world.
Georgia O'Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz
O'Keefe and Stieglitz bonded in the most iconic childfree art-marriage of the 20th century. A December/May relationship, Stieglitz was mentor and partner to the younger O'Keefe. He nurtured her art and promoted it even after they separated, until his death.
Stieglitz was a New York art dealer from a wealthy east coast family. He is well known for his iconic experimental photographs and for nurturing a generation of avant-garde artists pushing beyond the representational limits of the new medium.
In her late 40's, Georgia O'Keefe wanted to have a child. Stieglitz refused to help her with that, suggesting that motherhood would dampen the artistic flame he'd taken so much care to kindle. O'Keefe never bore children and biographers suggest she may have harbored some bitterness towards her marriage over the disagreement.
She also felt repressed by the conservative east coast culture and landscape and yearned for the open dry desert-scapes of her youth. She finally broke away from her husband and the New York art scene, planting herself firmly in the southwest - painting some of the most iconic paintings in history. She never returned to her husband, but the couple remained supportive and loving friends until Stieglitz' death.
Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner
Pollock and Krasner also struggled as married artists in the New York art scene of the mid-20th century. New York art dealers recognized Pollock's work first and his career took off, ultimately eclipsing his wife. Still, Krasner remained Pollock's main source of emotional support throughout is short life. His birth family wasn't supportive of his artistic life and he wasn't gifted with a stable personality.
Krasner became guardian to the hard-drinking Pollock and endured his volatile temper, nurturing his creativity at the same time. He created his most iconic paintings at a country cottage in Long Island, with Krasner by his side as lover and psychiatric nurse.
When Pollock was at his most successful and erratic, he decided he wanted to have children. Krasner refused to bring children into a tumultuous marriage. Her refusal to appease her childish husband resulted in his indulging in a series of affairs with younger women. In spite of everything, Krasner remained loyally at his side until his tragic death in an auto accident.
After his death, Krasner managed the business end of her husband's work and legacy. She established the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, supporting the efforts of emerging artists. She also revived her own art career and is finally getting the positive critical attention she always deserved.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera
Mexican painter Kahlo and Mexican political muralist Riviera also experienced a volatile marriage. Frida Kahlo desperately wanted children but suffered a debilitating accident in her youth and wasn't physically able to endure childbirth. She underwent an agonizing series of miscarriages and suffered emotionally throughout her life as a result.
Rather than sinking into depression, Kahlo found passion and value in her childless life. She poured all her pain into a moving autobiography told through her art. Her paintings are powerful explorations of Mexican culture, gender, relationships, nature, and the suffering inherent in physical and psychic pain.
Riviera also began a series of affairs and the couple separated, living in different dwellings on the same piece of land. They came together and moved apart many times in their relationship, reuniting through political activism and mutual artistic respect.
The couple divorced and Kahlo moved to Paris where she became friend and respected colleague to other great artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp and Surrealist writer Andre Breton. Kahlo flourished in the male-dominated European art scene of the 1930's and 40's. Her career began to soar. Remarkably, she returned to Mexico and remarried her husband several years later. They continued to live in separate homes but shared a commmon studio space.
Sadly, in her 40's Kahlo's health deteriorated rapidly and she was hospitalized numerous times. Still, she continued to paint with determination and also maintained an active political agenda. Kahlo died at the age of 46, the cause of her death shadowy, attributed to pneumonia or possible suicide.
In spite of her early death and her disappointment at never having children, Kahlo lived a vivid, rich and creative life - producing a bounty of artistic gifts for the enjoyment and inspiration of future generations.
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