Becoming the Witch: Alison Stine on making art and (not) meeting expectations

Alison Stine, author of the fabulous YA supernatural fantasy SUPERVISION, guest blogs for us today on being a woman who makes art.

I first heard about Mary Nohl last year. Now respected as a legendary outsider artist, when she was alive, local children called her a witch, threw stones at her. Because she lived alone and made art. She turned her house into her gallery, her property into a sculpture garden with work she had crafted out of concrete, wood, wire, and glass.

A man who makes art is allowed. We call him creative if his house is messy. A genius if he’s late. Brilliantly eccentric if he forgets to make lunch.

But a woman? A woman who makes art while her hair goes untrimmed and her house gets dirty? She’s crazy. That’s an old bat, a witch.

In the summer, I teach writing to kids. Almost all of my students, every year, are girls. It’s well-documented that more buyers of fiction books are women. More women work in publishing than men do. So why are men more published than women? Why do novels by and about men win more prizes? Why are the majority of the books that get reviews authored by and starring men?

Alison Stine Author Image

Why is it so hard to make art while being female?

Something happens between childhood and adulthood, something involving power and privilege, responsibility and rights. Men have a right to be behind a desk, lost in their heads, doing intellectual work. Women have a responsibility to take care of so many people and tasks, doing drudgery work, our rights and wants get lost.

Perhaps one of the reason my favorite writers are speculative and fantasy women writers—Angela Carter, Kelly Link, Octavia E. Butler, Robin McKinley—is because they provide an escape from this world that restricts more than half of its population. In these writers’ worlds, women can travel through time, fly on swan wings, throw off their skins, save themselves.

Here on Earth, women are supposed to not only be content with homemaking and childrearing, but to be good at it. But I would much rather make a home in my head than make my house look nice. And I am better at world-building books than I am at building gingerbread houses.

Here’s the thing that I, and all women artists, must fight against: perfection in anything other than our work.

I am unlearning what my mother and her mother before her taught me: to make all the beds in house, to have visible vacuum marks on the floor. My mother and her mother before her were not artists, but maybe they should have been. Maybe they could have been with permission from the world—and with permission from themselves—to be imperfect.

As women, we are given the weight of the world to bear. Often, it’s forced upon our backs, and we shoulder it because no one else will, because we must. But we don’t have to make it look pretty.

So, for the school potluck this week, I signed up to bring forks. Not a lovely dish I baked. Not cookies I took the time to purchase and pass off as my own, arranged on a nice plate. Forks.

And when my son’s playmate came over to my house, the dishes were undone and I had a deadline, so I took the boys on a long walk. They picked up fall leaves and hopped over mud puddles, and we all got messy. Then the car got messy. The house was also messy—and I haven’t clean it yet. I am sometimes late. I often forget to eat lunch.

But I write. I write books. I make worlds in which women like me, like the girl I was, have a fighting chance.

Are you a witch? My son’s playmate asked me solemnly.

And I knew I was doing something right.

 

SUPERVISION is available now in paperback here and ebook here. Follow Alison online via Twitter @AlisonStine , watch the teaser trailer for Supervision here: https://www.goodreads.com/videos/77681-supervision-teaser-trailer  and visit her website.

Photo of the author by Kari Gunter-Seymour. 

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