|"Poet and his Wife" oil stain, charcoal on canvas 34x46|
When I was a young painter of marriageable age, I would occasionally find myself pursued by a fellow artist. I ran into the usual “bad boys,” the famous ones who hung out at the Cedar Bar in Greenwich Village. I knew enough about them to stay far, far away. For the most part, they were egotistical drunks and any woman who got entangled with one of them, lost not only her “honor,” but her sanity. They literally ate well-meaning young women like me alive. Their intentions were not only dishonorable from the get-go, you never even registered as a person to them, only a potential bedmate for the night, The sad part is that while they were trying to seduce you, you knew they had wives or full-time girlfriends waiting alone in bed for them to come home. Unfortunately, there were lots of takers around, eager to brag that they had spent a night with Larry Rivers or Jackson Pollock (even if he didn’t know who they were the next morning). Not only did these guys seduce “groupies,” they used their sex appeal to get ahead in the art world, bedding dealers and bored wives of rich businessmen looking to “build a collection” (of what? penises?).
But, sexy as they were, the deKooning/Pollock set never presented a real danger; I had their number from the get-go. It was the “sincere” ones that were the threat, the ones who genuinely cared about me, who wanted to marry me. Those were the ones I had to look out for. Had I succumbed, I would have fallen into the category of woman I called “Artist’s Wife.” I had met too many like them in the art world, trapped into living their lives around the welfare of a genius spouse. They often took mundane, uninteresting jobs that paid the bills so their husbands could be free to work, unhindered by monetary constraints.
I was particularly sought after because I had a good job with the New York City Board of Education as a high school art teacher, which not only ensured a steady salary, but left me free for summers in Provincetown or Woodstock. I could also be useful as a built-in art critic, knowledgeable and able to critique work and offer valuable advice.
This is not to say that artist husband did not help pay the bills; he could always give painting classes to eager cadres of bored, sexually frustrated women looking to literally sit at the knee of a “great one” (paid for by a husband hard at work elsewhere.) As part of the job description, the Artist Wife was expected to ignore these seductive creatures, entertain in a suitably louche, bohemian manner and be available at a moments notice to drive into town to pick up the needed tube of Alizarin Crimson. As far as I was concerned, the deal sucked.
Ironically, many of these women were also talented artists, but the marriage had room for only one big ego, and it wasn’t going to be theirs. I thought “No thank you. I want to be the one in the studio; I want to be “the great one.” Give me a good, solid, loving non-artist for a spouse any day. If I want to discuss art, I‘ve got friends.
However, times have changed and artist’s wives are now in short supply. Women learned the hard way in the divorcing 1960s and 70s that to tie themselves to a man’s career was a formula for disaster. All the young women I know want their own life, not to hang on to someone elses. I have a male artist friend in his late thirties who has been looking for a partner for quite a few years now. He needs one desperately as he spends far too much of his creative time on chores and occupations that could easily be delegated to a spouse. He is talented and good to look at; in my day, someone would have hitched herself to him before he even got out of art school. Not so today; he is having a terrible time finding a mate; even those unmarried women you would think would jump at the chance seem to have second thoughts. Who wants to be an “artist’s wife” nowadays? Not a whole lot of takers out there, I’m happy to say.
I had a friend who was fond of quoting a Russian proverb that went: “Three heads can’t sleep on one pillow.” I’d like to change it to say: "Two artists can’t sleep on one pillow. Their heads are too big.”