jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

I Am For An Art: An Old Manifesto I’d Almost Forgotten I Believed In

A hundred years ago, when I was an artist and an art student and a lover and a free spirit, I wrote a manifesto on art based on Claes Oldenburg’s I am For… from 1961. And so I dug it out from under a stone, wiped off the dirt and dust, updated it for the modern Jen, and gently laid it here. It’s a good reminder that not every child needs to be controlled by a stoplight clock (I love that ding-dang thing), not every piece of art needs to be beautiful, and most importantly, I wasn’t always Mama Art.

Once upon a time, I was For an Art...


I am for an art that reveals itself unabashedly. I am for an art that keeps deep secrets.

I am for an art that lives in dark spaces under stairwells, below dark dusty beds in musty basements and other people’s garbage.

Under the Stairs  oil on panel, by Jennifer Groeber Summer 1998

Under the Stairs
oil on panel, by Jennifer Groeber
Summer 1998

I am for an art that wanders through nightmares, places of discomfort, frustration, loss.

I am for the art of dreams, visitations by the dead, flying through the sky, talking faceless ones.

I am for the art of pink curlers, the pulling off of a doll’s head, the odor of burning doll hair on a curling iron.

I am for the art of a weighty grandfather’s tool chest carrying mysteries and tales of pain and hardship, for the steelworker and the waitress, the housewife and the businessman, and their stumbling, tumbling progeny.

I am for the art of scary clowns, sleeping babies and the stale smell of Marlboro cigarettes.

I am for the art of the squeak of leg braces, of the rising of bile in one’s throat for an unnameable fear. I am for an art of a devotion and obsession that is two parts resentment and dread and three parts pulsing, pressing, throat-clenching love.


Butch Braces
woodcut, by Jennifer Groeber

I am for an art that witnesses moments of absurd despair and self-loathing. I am for an art that celebrates the gritty, fearsome strength of the obese woman living inside of small women.


I am for an art of too much sugar, too much color, too much pattern, too many treasures, too many thoughts, flowers, crabapples and children.

I am for an art that expands like a turnpike, repeats itself like stripmalls and is deceptively comforting like suburbia.

I am for an art of the attic, the garage sale, the folded photograph and stories handed down, once truth, now lore.

I am for an art of the clenched fist, the pinching of one’s own flesh, the scratching of skin to erase the fear, the bone and skin and muscle.


I Felt My Toenails Growing
graphite and latex on panel, by Jennifer Groeber


I am for an art that counts the number of days left, years of marriage, pounds lost.

I am for an art that you can hold in your hand, that makes your nose run and mucus slide down the back of your throat, that you can stare at but never see, that embarrasses you or reminds.

I am for an art of diaries, billboards, caution signs, Charlie Brown, National Geographic magazines and hastily scribbled postcards.

I am for an art that envelops you, that makes you like a rat in a maze or a fish in a bowl or a baby in a crib or a fingernail on the page of the Sunday comics.

I am for an art that stumbles and is embarrassed, looking back to see that there was nothing to stumble on, pretending to never have stumbled.

I am for an art that lifts its skirt, that throws its skirt in the air, that gingerly peeks below its skirt, that forces you to look up its skirt, that didn’t realize its skirt was tucked into its waistband.


I am for art that is honest, that tells all. I am for art that conceals in rambling sentences of excuses and sidetracks.

I am for the art of a pregnant woman trying to sit on the ground, of a child dancing a whirling dervish, of a self-conscious teenager painted and pressed and primped.

I am for the art of sticky fingers in your hair, hands clutching your skirt, your pants, your shirt, of baby fingers curled under the edge of a bra strap as a hungry mouth sucks the milk of your marrow.


Life-Size  Self-portrait, graphite  May 2007

Self-portrait, graphite, by Jennifer Groeber
May 2007

I am for the art of chance, of decision, of a changed mind, of a coincidence.

I am for the art of duty and honor, fear and betrayal, of resentment and jealousy, of humor and serendipity.

I am for the art of spinning until you throw up, of a lover’s sweaty embrace, of realizing you were wrong, of flipping through the TV channels, of wanting to be liked, of hating the way these pants fit, of a child’s tantrum, of laughing until your stomach hurts, of a beeping alarm on a hospital machine in the master bedroom, of telling a hurtful truth, of ads and radio jingles that you hum all day, of black magic markers and shiny house paint breathed deeply.

I am for an art of more, more, more. At all cost.



(I write this as part of the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge, Manifesto, as a tribute to Claes Oldenburg’s chutzpah and as a reminder to myself that I am still for an art.)

62 comments on “I Am For An Art: An Old Manifesto I’d Almost Forgotten I Believed In

  1. Margie S
    August 13, 2014

    You left me speechless. Your talent, openness, honesty and brilliance are truly one of a kind (and I mean that in the most fantastic way)! I love the way you look at things. You are fierce and a force to be reckoned with!

    • jgroeber
      August 13, 2014

      You are too good to take the time to drop by on this rainy summer morning. Thank you for bearing witness to my manifesto. A little bit, I hope it’s all of our manifestos. Perhaps it should go, “I am for a life…”

      • Margie S
        August 17, 2014

        Yes, I agree – I am for a life..:)

  2. donofalltrades
    August 14, 2014

    I totally suck at art, and so I’m really jealous of people who are artistic. Grrrr. Love it.

    • jgroeber
      August 14, 2014

      You are tearing it up this morning! Gees. And thanks for the compliment.

  3. Megan L.
    August 15, 2014

    I love this!

    • jgroeber
      August 22, 2014

      Thank you for reading and for the compliment.

  4. stetsonsgardener
    August 15, 2014

    I love all the juxtapositions that you create throughout this piece. Art can be bright or dark, happy, sad or angry (or maybe all three at once!). But it has to be challenging!

    I especially liked “art that witnesses moments of absurd despair and self-loathing,” but I’ve been in a bit of a mood lately… 🙂

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Yes to all three at once. It’s the friction between two things that don’t quite belong together that I think I love best. Life is like that, right?

  5. Pingback: “Foolish Compassion” – The 19th of September 1993 – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania | Forgotten Correspondence

  6. kellylmckenzie
    August 16, 2014

    I felt my toenails growing! I did. Talk about evocative. Wonderful post. And yes, I’m with you on the “I am for a life …”

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      So glad you got the toenails feeling. I’ve been saying it since college. And the art I like is like life; messy, surprising, silly, moving.

  7. Burns the Fire
    August 18, 2014

    “I am for the art of the squeak of leg braces, of the rising of bile in one’s throat for an unnameable fear. I am for an art of a devotion and obsession that is two parts resentment and dread and three parts pulsing, pressing, throat-clenching love.”

    Thanks for so much inspiration, I don’t know what to do first.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      You always say the exactly right thing.
      Which is an art of its own.
      And I am for that art.

  8. Home That We Built
    August 19, 2014

    Your manifesto is most powerful and endlessly inspirational! Thank you for reminding us what life is all about in your own words.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Thank you so much or reading and commenting. Claes Oldenberg was on to something- we could all likely rant an “I Am For an Art…” manifesto. Or better yet, an “I Am For a Life…” manifesto.

  9. whatastrangelittlegirl
    August 19, 2014

    Bravo for leaving me with no choice but to brave the toes in order to read on, because I knew, without knowing, that it was worth the risk. Bravo for making me smile and bravo for inspiring me.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Such a kind comment. Thank you.
      Those toes! It is such a singular thing, being so still inside yourself that you feel your toenails growing,

  10. painterprintmkr
    August 19, 2014

    Beautifully worded and very well done.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Thank you. Check out his original if you get the chance. Totally evocative of a time and place…

  11. The Moon is a Naked Banana
    August 19, 2014

    Maybe art isn’t truly art until we find it years later. A child’s drawing, a sketch on the back of a telephone book, a pincushion made for the country fair. All these things are commonplace enough when they are first created, but do not become relics until they are found in boxes of paperwork and under stairs. Then we look at them and exclaim as memories fill our hearts. ‘Remember how Sam stayed up all night to finish this?’ ‘I made this when Mum was in hospital with Ben.’ ‘This one I gave to Grandma, only she forgot to take it home.’
    Art is only memories trying to be understood.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Now that comment is a manifesto unto itself. The pincushion for the county fair just got to the heart of something. Because I really do feel like art is memories trying to be understood. I just keep dusting off these relics and turning them this way and that trying to figure out why we couldn’t see it coming or what it all means.
      Lovely comment. Thank you.

  12. bpdoyle1
    August 20, 2014

    Reblogged this on tess righetti and commented:
    Sensational heartfelt manifesto

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Thank you for sharing and for the kind words.

  13. DL
    August 20, 2014

    Very interesting imagery!

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Thank you. Looking back I see how it all more or less had the same intent but how it headed off on these surprising detours along the way.

  14. blackaliciouz
    August 20, 2014

    Reblogged this on comfortzoneme.

  15. Maulika
    August 20, 2014

    Reblogged this on Bakbakee's Blog and commented:
    I Am For An Art.
    Because art celebrates life 🙂

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Thank you. And yes, I’ve always felt art has the potential to be a celebration of even the grittiest bits of life.

  16. seeingstarstuff
    August 20, 2014

    Haha…thanks for the memory. I remember reading this in high school during Art History and laughing at how great this manifesto was.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      It’s amazing how “of the time” his manifesto was, but also how it doesn’t fail to deliver, even now. I love sharing it with young art and art history students. They almost always get it right away.

  17. sheiladerosa
    August 20, 2014

    I read your post and wished I had written it. It expresses everything I feel about art. Thank you, in jealousy, Sheila

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      What a lovely compliment. Thank you. Truly.

  18. drawandshoot
    August 20, 2014

    Oh Jen, you make my mind go whirr, snap, fizz – and I love it!
    What a gorgeous manifesto for art making, life living, breathing.

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Ah, from such a glorious artist as you are, those are cherish-worthy words indeed. Thank you.

  19. amykgarciaart
    August 21, 2014

    Reblogged this on BECOMING AMY.

  20. Deborah
    August 21, 2014

    Love it.
    I am for an art of being human in the modern world 🙂

    • sheiladerosa
      August 22, 2014

      Or even post-human?

    • jgroeber
      August 24, 2014

      Yes, it’s the human-ness that makes it all have meaning: gritty or raw or stupid or gleeful or sad.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  21. Phoebe Thomasson
    August 25, 2014

    Reblogged this on WORD GURU and commented:
    Words of insight
    The tick and tock
    Of the art in soul
    Of all humans..?

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2014

      Thank you for visiting and for the reblog.

  22. Phoebe Thomasson
    August 25, 2014

    This sums it up.
    Art and the why…
    Superb!! 🙂

  23. Heartafire
    August 26, 2014

    Most interesting and well written text. thank you.

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2014

      So nice of you to stop by and comment. Thanks.

  24. ergetamuca
    August 28, 2014

    Reblogged this on Econo-Sententia and commented:
    I am for an art..
    Great inspiration

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2014

      Why thank you for your comment. We all need a little inspiration.

  25. unrabbit
    August 29, 2014

    Reblogged this on Rabbit me and commented:
    this is art ❤

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2014

      Thanks so much for the comment. Check out the original Claes Oldenburg manifesto for an extra shot of I Am For an Art.

  26. Creativetarns - Tania Hood
    August 30, 2014

    This is the best thing i’ve read in a long time….

    • jgroeber
      September 1, 2014

      Such a lovely comment! Thanks so much.

  27. Samara
    September 4, 2014

    Who knew you’d gotten freshly Pressed again? It’s always the quiet ones…

    I was in tears by the time I finished this, and then I read it again. I wish so badly to be able to write like this. And I need to visit your blog more often.

    I’m with Brenda. That paragraph she quoted slays me. Are you on Facebook? I’d love to post this on facebook.


    • jgroeber
      September 4, 2014

      Oh, you are adorable.
      And thank you for your kind words. You write like a gorgeous lightening storm, so your words are high praise indeed.
      Your sharing this on FB would be amazing. I couldn’t figure out why I was getting so many comments after I posted this until one said “Congrats” and I realized it’d been FP’ed. Then I saw Don’s gorgeous piece on Ferguson and forgot about it. Which is always the way, am I right?
      xo right back atcha’.

  28. bethteliho
    September 4, 2014

    **sneaks in with a whisper because she’s not officially back online yet**
    This. was poetic/profound/tender/honest/beautiful. All at once. Loved every line. your talent knows no bounds, does it? Love the art work too. *gasp* stunning.

    I am for an art….of Jen.

    • jgroeber
      September 4, 2014

      Now, how dear is that comment? Thank you for coming by and for your too-kind words. I promise I won’t tell anyone you were here. But take a cookie and a glass of wine for the road, ‘kay? Or just hang out for awhile and we can laugh at stuff… until you pee.

  29. lissieinchains
    September 7, 2014

    Reblogged this on lissieinchains and commented:
    I’d like to say I get this, but who am I to say that?

  30. Stuart M. Perkins
    September 11, 2014


    • jgroeber
      September 12, 2014

      Stuart! What a pleasure to find you here. Your heart-warming tales always make me smile. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

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