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Museum Of Art

Panel on Art and Motherhood Addresses Caregiving and Creation 

Panelists Discussed Finding One’s Authentic Voice, How Caregiving Experiences Shape Their Art and Advice on Finding Success as a Woman in the Art World

In the BYU Library’s Alice Reynolds Auditorium in April, people gathered to hear an experienced panel discuss parenthood and their artistry. Each panelist is at a different stage of motherhood: Tara Carpenter Estrada has a 17-year-old and a 3-year-old. Jann Haworth is Liberty Blake’s mother, and Blake has grown children of her own. Kaylan Buteyn is just emerging from young motherhood, and Janalee Emmer has worked extensively with artists who are mothers in her career as a curator and museum director.

Being vulnerable in one’s work is an artist’s lifelong quest, and authenticity is especially tricky when portraying motherhood. How can an artist resolve the complicated tensions of parenthood with the euphoric moments? Liberty Blake said that the most important thing for her is honesty. “You have the opportunity to express something visually, from inside. I think the most important thing is always to be able to look deeply inside and then to try and express that in a visual form in a way that's honest.”

The panelists listen to Tara Carpenter Estrada’s response to a question.
The panelists listen to Tara Carpenter Estrada’s response to a question.
Photo by Emma Olson

Creating art that resonates with audiences and that truly reflects the artist’s voice requires beginning from a place of openness and vulnerability. Tara Carpenter Estrada said, “I like awkward in-between moments. I take pictures all the time, and it's the weird pictures that are interesting to me.” One of her paintings is based on a moment when her older daughter was brushing her younger daughter’s teeth. “It's not perfect, but it's real,” she said.

Professor Carpenter Estrada added that as she began to raise her newborn, she had an “explosion of ideas and visuals that I wanted to address. When it came time to make stuff, [the inspiration] was just there.”

The discussion also encompassed how motherhood can impact an artist’s professional identity and work ethic. Janalee Emmer said that in her experience, artists who are mothers are more “equipped in their later career to be very flexible and to shift into different styles and different media.” It allows for “flexibility that other artists might not have because they haven't been limited in some ways and then have to expand and change.” Jann Haworth agreed and said, “Before I had kids, it was more languid, but I feel more effective now. I make decisions and nail it and I don't waste any time. I plan very carefully and execute.”

The panelists agreed that creating art as parents is difficult, but that a key to being able to continue was cultivating community. Kaylan Buteyn said, in spite of “all of the horrible things the internet has given us, community is the biggest gift.” Young mothers are often homebound and sleep deprived when they’re nursing young babies, but they can still scroll, type, listen and connect with others. Buteyn said, that “plugging into online communities is really valuable.”

A woman listens intently to the panelists.
A woman listens intently to the panelists.
Photo by Emma Olson

Each of the panelists emphasized in turn how parenthood is an opportunity to grow and provides endless inspiration for art. Haworth said, “It's the most wonderful journey and if you are lucky enough to be able to raise a child and navigate back into work, the input and output of being in the presence of mind emerging is the best.” She and her daughter Liberty are currently working together on a collaborative mural project.

Blake’s art took a backseat while she was raising her children, and she felt that all her creative energy went toward parenting and homeschooling. She said, “I was creating how to be a mother and I was growing as a person.” Compared to “being around little humans growing up,” art felt meaningless and trivial for a long while. However, she said that if a person can channel all the energy that comes from the experience of motherhood into their art, “there’s nothing more powerful.” About the work that she creates now, (both on her own and with her mother Jann) she said, “I feel that I’m drawing from the whole of my experience as a mother over the last 30 years.”

Conversations about artistry and motherhood continue on a podcast hosted by Kaylan Buteyn and within a recent book by Tara Carpenter Estrada.


  • Tara Carpenter Estrada: Artist, Editor and BYU Art Education Faculty
  • Kaylan Buteyn: Artist, Editor and Creator of the Artist/Mother Podcast
  • Janalee Emmer: BYU MOA Director
  • Liberty Blake: Artist & Writer 
  • Jann Haworth: British-American Pop Artist and Founder of the Looking Glass School