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Artists As Parents: Amy And Misha Kligman

Balancing the responsibilities of raising children with the demands of work is a challenge for any parent. For many artists, the pressure is intensified by the need to create. As part of our series, Artists As Parents, two local artists talk about their latest collaboration — their son Sam.     

Working though a lack of sleep

It's a Friday morning, and Amy Kligman works in the downtown studio she shares with her husband Misha. Amy is experimenting with cocktail umbrellas for a new installation project but she’s feeling tired. She was up early with her son, Sam.

“So Sam’s a year-and-a-half old,” Amy says. “At this point he should be sleeping a little better than he is. So I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing for art practice but anytime I come in here, the chances are I’m working on some amount of lack of sleep."

She adds with a laugh, "You’re sort of in some sort of altered state, naturally. So maybe that's good. Maybe that will generate new ideas. But it definitely creates a sort of fog or fuzziness that you’re sort of always trying to work through."

After Sam was born, hours devoted to personal artwork have become more scarce. Amy also works full-time at Hallmark, and for the past four years, Amy and Misha have teamed up with three other artists to co-curate PLUG Projects — an artist-collaborative in the West Bottoms that brings in artists from around the country. But Friday morning in the studio is Amy’s time to focus on her own work.  

Nurturing the second child — art

"I’ve often thought of how to describe trying to have a child at the same time as having an art practice and I thing every time I try it comes out really trite," Amy says. "But the best I can do is to say that it is sort of like having another child that you are trying to raise in a completely separate environment.”

“Now that I have Sam, these are the two loves of my life, right? And I would really like them to play nice together,” she continues. “But I think that maybe they don’t always play nice together and you just have to figure out how that works and how they can still be a part of your life — both of them — in those major ways you want them to be.”  

Amy is 35, and says she and Misha put off having children because they knew it would be a big change. Now she says she often feels caught between two worlds.  

“I think before I had Sam, life was already pretty full,” she says. “There was a lot going on and, you know, I felt really busy, and then now, no matter what I’m doing, there’s always this other thing that I should be spending time with, you know.

"Whether that I’m at home with Sam and I’m really into that, but in the back of my head I’m feeling really guilty that I am not at the studio. That happens a lot. It also happens that I’m in the studio and I feel really guilty because I’m not at home with Sam. So there’s sort of that perpetual guilt.”  

But Amy says that there is also magic in the change Sam has brought to their lives.

“I just want to stress what a difference having Sam in our life has made in a really positive way,” she says. “You know I think that it’s forced us to be less selfish. To, you know, really commit to this little human being. And I think there is something really awesome that happens really spending time with him.”  

The pitfalls of juggling art and family

At noon, it's time for her to leave the studio and join Misha and Sam for lunch at home. Sam, with a mop of dark blond hair, greets her at the door when she arrives. The three of them sit around a table to eat the lunch Misha’s prepared. He’s just spent his morning with Sam. After lunch, Misha will head to the studio to paint.

Misha, an adjunct at Johnson County Community College, teaches painting and drawing. Studying the biographies of great artists is a passion for Misha. And a theme emerged for him as he read these stories — family life clashing with art. It's something he wanted to avoid.  

“I’m interested in artist figures, you know and certain artists who I follow,” Misha says. “They hurt their children a lot through this commitment to this art thing that they do. There are lots of examples of of artists really failing as parents — like dramatically failing.

“This is a very sensitive issue within our family in terms of how much time we spend away from Sam, what our involvement is. Is this enough, how to integrate it all together, so it’s been pretty difficult to figure out.” 

Striking the right balance

Misha says he and Amy strive for striking the right balance but there’s always the pressure of time.

“I sort of envy people in my family who are not artists,” says Misha. “That’s what they do. They go to work and they come home and they enjoy their families and they dig in their gardens and deal with life.”

“That’s pleasant, you know, I love that. I would love to do that all the time," he continues. “But we seem to have this other thing that we’ve committed to and now its a part of our life. Things get very, very messy very, very fast and that’s where you have to choose do you clean your house or do you stretch a canvas or do you go for a walk with your kid so I wish I didn’t have to make as many choices."    

While the responsibilities of being a parent weigh heavily on Misha, there are unexpected joys, too.  

“For me, the life without the child was a very interesting and free life,” Misha says. “But with a child it is less free but more meaningful so it’s an interesting balance. I find myself on the edge of kind of the strongest feeling you don’t anticipate. They just sneak up on you. So all of a sudden you are on the verge of tears right because you are just overwhelmed with some kind of a joy that this little being, through its existence, did to you.”  

Back at home, Amy and Misha watch over Sam as he plays with the toys in his room. They both say they look forward to seeing his life take shape cradled in the artist life they share.

TELL KC: If you’re an artist, how has having a child or children affected your work? Click here to tell your story. Or become a source for our Tell KC network, a collaboration of KCUR and KCPT in Kansas City. 

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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