Touching Art and Not Dating Drummers

Four working artists share more thoughts on arts and parenting

It wouldn't be a roundtable of working artists without some philosophizing on the nature of art. Or, apparently, without some generous digs at drummers. What follows is what got squeezed out of a longer discussion about arts and parenting conducted with four professional artists who are also parents with young children.

Playwright Colin Denby Swanson and Levi (Photo by John Anderson)

Sitting down to share their experiences in balancing family with a creative career were: Aara Krumpe, professional dancer at Ballet Austin for 17 years, and wife and mother to two boys, ages 5 and 7; Shea Little, director of Big Medium, artistic dabbler, and married father of three; Kirk Lynn, head of the playwriting/directing program at the University of Texas, author, co-producing artistic director of the Rude Mechanicals, and husband and father of two; and C. Denby Swanson, a playwright, writer, member of Southwestern University’s theatre department, and single mom to a 3-year-old boy. For more of their discussion, go here.

Austin Chronicle: How does your work impact what you do as a parent?

Kirk Lynn: I always think that people who like their kids to do the exact same thing as them, that seems psychotic to me. I want my kids to find themselves in the world rather than think that the theatre is great or think that books are great. If they love books, that’s fine, but I don’t want to force them to read a bunch of books.

AC: I do.

Lynn: You know what I mean? I don’t want to make my child live my life in any way. And I want to live my own life. I want them to see me making choices that make me happy as they get older.

C. Denby Swanson: I’m worried that mine’s going to be a drummer.

Lynn: Oooh! That’s the worst of all musicians!

Swanson: That’s what I’m saying!

Aara Krumpe: What?

Lynn: Did you ever date a drummer? It’s a total train wreck.

Swanson: Don’t.

Lynn: If we can give one piece of advice through this article, it should be do not date a drummer.

Swanson: Maybe a percussionist.

Lynn: You think that’s classier if they’re a percussionist?

Swanson: Just more options, maybe.

Dancer Aara Krumpe and her sons Lucas (l) and Leo (Photo by John Anderson)

Krumpe: I think what I’m noticing most with Leo, my oldest, is when I put him to bed at night, and I say okay, you’re going to have a babysitter tomorrow, he says, but you’re not working. Why are you going in to take class? Because that’s what I love to do, and you have to keep working and working. Even though I’m 35. You have to go in every day and work, because I still want to be better. I think now he’s starting to get that.

The point is, you work really hard to achieve a goal, and if you’re lucky, you get to do that as your job. Let’s expose you to people doing what they do really well.  So you can be interested in that and pick whatever fascinates you. Like, you take art in school. Now let’s go to this gallery and look at it! Someone does that for a living. And they’re selling that. If you really love it and you want to do it, the world is open to you. And I think that’s fun to see them start to get that I still go in and do what I do, even in the summers when we’re off, because I love it. I hope that they can find something on their own that can turn into a profession.

AC: Shea, how much does art figure into your family life, since both you and your wife are involved in the scene?

Shea Little: It seems like it’s just an integrated part, day in and day out. One of the programs we do is the East Austin Studio Tour, and when that comes around, they’re usually there with us.

Krumpe: They come along a lot, I’m sure.

Little: Occasionally they come to openings. Which is usually a bad idea because –

Swanson: There’s wine?

Little: Yeah. If we don’t basically helicopter them, they will touch art. Even though they know they shouldn’t.

Lynn: It just means there’s a problem with the art. We need better art.

Little: Art should be touchable!

Lynn: Exactly!

AC: Is there a sizable number of people in the visual art scene who are also parenting? Or is it something where people leave their career once they have this financial obligation?

Little: Most of the visual artists I know in the community have other jobs. We have quite a few friends who have gone through that same transition of having children, and they’re still active and engaged.

I have seen a shift in that focus and dedication. It’s great to see artists value themselves. In the visual arts, businesses will say, hey you should put your art on my wall, because of promotion and exposure! I’ve started to see a lot of those artists, certainly the ones who have families, choose those things very carefully.

Swanson: I don’t know if I could have done parenting any place but here, not only because of my family. You know in fostering you have an hour notice. They call you and say, we have a kid. This is the age, do you want this child? And you say yes or no, and if you say yes, they say great, we’re on our way. With my son, I had maybe 45 minutes. And I could either Facebook or text or call somebody and say, “Shit. I have a child on the way. I’m in labor right now!” And I had people delivering buckets of toys or a stroller or bottles or clothes for days and days afterwards. If I had been in New York or Chicago without those deep roots of friends, I don’t know what I would have done.

Lynn: I think especially right now, my young family is putting a lot of stress on my colleagues. I often come to rehearsal after I’ve put Olive to bed, because I don’t want to miss bedtime, and I don’t want to miss rehearsal. But I think in a lot of ways, they trained me to be a feminist. They trained me to be a participant in my family in ways that I think now, it makes rehearsal harder but I think I would honestly say I feel their pride in the way that I’m a good husband and a good father. But there’s a lot of support from those colleagues. A lot of support from the family. And my kids are just now getting old enough that Olive can understand, that if I say, “will you just give me five minutes?” She can give me five minutes while I just get the end of an idea down.

Swanson: The deadline thing is great. Because you only have five minutes. If you didn’t have only five minutes, it might take you an hour. So that puppy gets done in five minutes.

Little: The days of sitting around and smoking cigarettes and staring at a painting are over.

Swanson: That’s what I mean by suffering!

Lynn: It seems luxurious now. There should be a grant for just, like –

Swanson: The suffering grant?

Lynn: All we’re going to do is pay you to smoke cigarettes and look at shit and just doubt.

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arts careers, C. Denby Swanson, Aara Krumpe, Ballet Austin, Southwestern University, Shea Little, Big Medium, Kirk Lynn, Rude Mechs, UT Department of Theatre & Dance

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