The Father Instinct

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01Lou Stein2011042520120723

Writer/director Lou Stein sets out on a quest to understand the connections between fatherhood and creativity. He draws on Greek father-archetypes to gain insight and understanding into today's shifting fatherly landscape.

"If, in my own life so far, I have a bit of the wanderlust of Odysseus, and the rebellious nature of the father-hungry Achilles, it is Hector's ideals which I most aspire to."

There is little doubt that the act of consciously choosing to become a father (as opposed to fathering a child) is a critical choice for any man. But artists who choose to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood have their creative inventions enhanced and challenged in a very specific way. Does the fact of taking on the challenges of fatherhood in the 21st century diminish their creative output in some way by dividing the creativity needed to be a father and needed to be an artist? Or does having a child nourish and advance the artist's creative march forward in an ever-changing world, where the rules of engagement are accelerated in a consumer-lead, technologically driven context.

In the first essay of the series, Lou Stein looks at the historical notions of fatherhood in Western culture, and in particular the shifting expectations of what it means to be a father. Drawing on a number of Greek archetypes of fatherhood, he offers a view of the ancient and contemporary expectations of the father which can help us understand the fatherly landscape we live in today.

Writer/director Lou Stein explores the impact of fatherhood on creativity.

02John Keane2011042620120725

Lou Stein's investigation into the connections between fatherhood and creativity continues with Gulf War Artist John Keane's look at how his children have influenced how he sees his art and his role as a father.

His paintings reflect on the the dire poverty and hopelessness which can flourish in third world countries in conflict.

Although the nature of his interests means that he is constantly travelling to politically explosive parts of the world, fatherhood has helped him maintain an emotional balance in his life.

"It was not until my daughter was eleven and my son six that an idea emerged for a painting that blended with the theme of my work at that time, and flowed naturally into the series that I was putting together for an exhibition entitled Intelligent Design.

I had become fascinated with the images of the outer reaches of the universe transmitted to us from the orbiting Hubble telescope.

The sheer wonder of the vastness of what is out there defies comprehension but inspires awe.

And what we see there is what we are.

Stardust.

Coalesced somehow into an intelligent life form, and circumscribed by love and cruelty.

Against this I had also a photograph of my two children, holding hands, standing on a Suffolk beach in front of the ocean and gazing out to the horizon, their backs toward me.

The idea occurred to me of substituting the object of their gaze, the chilly greys of the North Sea, for the rich hues of outer space, and this charged the image with a resonance invoking both the micro- and macrocosmic, but more than anything else it just reminded me of that old logo from my own childhood of Start-rite shoes - and this resonance was perfect."

Notes:

JOHN KEANE Gulf War artist John Keane was born in Hertfordshire in 1954 and attended Camberwell School of Art.

His work has focused on many of the pressing political questions of our age, and he came to national prominence in 1991 when he was appointed as official British War Artist during the Gulf War.

His subject matter has subsequently addressed difficult topics in relation to religiously inspired terrorism such as Guantanamo Bay, the Moscow theatre siege and homegrown violence against civilians.

Most recently, he has also become known for the portraits of Mo Mowlam, Jon Snow and Kofi Annan.

Artist John Keane discusses how his children have influenced how he sees his work.

Lou Stein's investigation into the connections between fatherhood and creativity continues with Gulf War Artist John Keane's look at how his children have influenced how he sees his art and his role as a father. His paintings reflect on the the dire poverty and hopelessness which can flourish in third world countries in conflict. Although the nature of his interests means that he is constantly travelling to politically explosive parts of the world, fatherhood has helped him maintain an emotional balance in his life.

"It was not until my daughter was eleven and my son six that an idea emerged for a painting that blended with the theme of my work at that time, and flowed naturally into the series that I was putting together for an exhibition entitled Intelligent Design. I had become fascinated with the images of the outer reaches of the universe transmitted to us from the orbiting Hubble telescope. The sheer wonder of the vastness of what is out there defies comprehension but inspires awe. And what we see there is what we are. Stardust. Coalesced somehow into an intelligent life form, and circumscribed by love and cruelty. Against this I had also a photograph of my two children, holding hands, standing on a Suffolk beach in front of the ocean and gazing out to the horizon, their backs toward me. The idea occurred to me of substituting the object of their gaze, the chilly greys of the North Sea, for the rich hues of outer space, and this charged the image with a resonance invoking both the micro- and macrocosmic, but more than anything else it just reminded me of that old logo from my own childhood of Start-rite shoes - and this resonance was perfect."

JOHN KEANE Gulf War artist John Keane was born in Hertfordshire in 1954 and attended Camberwell School of Art. His work has focused on many of the pressing political questions of our age, and he came to national prominence in 1991 when he was appointed as official British War Artist during the Gulf War. His subject matter has subsequently addressed difficult topics in relation to religiously inspired terrorism such as Guantanamo Bay, the Moscow theatre siege and homegrown violence against civilians. Most recently, he has also become known for the portraits of Mo Mowlam, Jon Snow and Kofi Annan.

03Abdulrazak Gurnah2011042720120727

Lou Stein's investigation into the connections between fatherhood and creativity continues with Booker nominated author Abdulrazak Gurnah's emotional return to Zanzibar to see his elderly father. By making contact with him and his native land after a long period of absence, he was able to clearly focus his memories and his father's stories. He shared them with his daughters and then the world with the publication of his award-winning book "Paradise".

"My father was a pious man, but his piety was not oppressive. He did not harangue or lecture people, or engage in any ostentatious acts of observance. When he was younger, he was one of the handful of people who went to the mosque for the dawn prayers, and went to the mosque for all the other prayers in the day when he wasn't at work. Even when he was so unwell, he went to the mosque for at least three of the day's prayers. During the month of Ramadhan he read the Koran from beginning to end, reading for two hours in the afternoon every day instead of taking his usual siesta, pacing himself so that he could complete the reading before the month was out. So it was no surprise that one of the first things that my father should say to me after a 17-year absence was, go to the mosque and say your prayers, for while he did not harangue people about praying, he did not see why he should not harangue his own son."

Notes:

ABDULRAZAK GURNAH (Novelist). Abdulrazak was born in 1948 in Zanzibar, Tanzania and teaches at the University of Kent. His best-known novels are Desertion (2005), By The Sea (2001), and Paradise (1994). The latter was short-listed for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Prize. It is a compelling story set in East Africa about a young Muslim boy, Yusuf, who is pawned by his father to a rich and powerful trader whom he is told is his "uncle". His search for his own identity and for an understanding of his true father's actions is the centre Gurnah's novel.

Author Abdulrazak Gurnah makes contact with his father after a long period of absence.

04James Macmillan20110428

Lou Stein's investigation into the connections between fatherhood and creativity continues with composer James Macmillan's view that the traditional role of fatherhood which values family and life must be re-discovered and celebrated.

For Macmillan, marrying and having a family was entirely sympathetic with the demands of his life as an artist.

"Can a musician contribute to this much-needed counter-revolution? Can artists be weaned off their toxic hedonism to provide new ways of imagining our human condition and its flourishing in a universal sense of the good life? I have no idea.

Nevertheless, something strange happened to me and my long-time collaborator, the poet Michael Symmons Roberts when we first became fathers in the 1990s.

We were overwhelmed at the new experience.

No one warns you that you fall head over heels in love with the new arrivals - these tiny, insignificant little bundles - who can do nothing for themselves, but turn your lives inside out.

Maybe mothers know about this, but as usual, fathers, perhaps a bit slow on the uptake, are the last to find out.

We noticed that there was not much in our culture which reflected on this, or celebrated parenthood, and fatherhood especially.

Neither was there much which rejoiced in the family, or marriage or the fullness of human sexuality, other than the usual stuff from popular culture.

We wondered if we could address this vacuum in our own work, some way.

It is not the first time that Michael and I have been accused of muscling into territory recently colonized by militant, exclusivist feminism, but you know what? We couldn't care less! The result was Quickening, a large oratorio co-commissioned by the BBC Proms and the Philadelphia Orchestra."

Notes:

JAMES MACMILLAN (Composer).

James became internationally recognised after the performance of his composition Tryst in 1990 which lead to his appointment as Affiliate Composer of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

His prolific output has been performed and broadcast around the world, placing him in the front rank of contemporary composers.

James' beautifully reflective works about the Scottish Isles The Road to Ardtalla (1983) and I (A Meditation on Iona) (1996) were toured nationally in 2004 as part of Lou Stein's and Deirdre Gribbin's Venus Blazing Tour, which played to a sell-out crowd at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.

Composer James MacMillan argues for the traditions of fatherhood to be re-discovered.

05 LAST20110429

In his concluding essay for the series, writer/director Lou Stein reveals how his four year old son, who has Down's syndrome, has been a positive influence on his work and life.

"Fathering a child with a severe disability is usually seen to compromise work and personal life, but in my case, my son has enhanced, inspired and even become a part of my work as a director and dramatist".

While working on pre-production groundwork for THE ESSAY series, Lou interviewed a number of potential artist-fathers who might have something revealing to say about the impact of fatherhood, either negative or positive on their work.

During this process, he realised that the birth of his son, Ethan, marked a progressive turning point in his directing career.

During the first few weeks of his son's life, which coincided with the premiere of a play he was directing (PERFORMANCES by Brian Friel), Lou imagined a future where most of his energies would be spent on caring for a son who had critically severe special needs.

He feared the implications for his own work.

The opposite happened.

A power instinctive force was released which Lou feels has resulted in some of his best creative work.

Ethan has also put Lou in touch with his own father who died when he was 7 by reminding him of his own childhood.

"During the first week of Ethan's birth, I heard and saw my father clearly for the first time in my life.

In the dream, he appeared in a 1950's-styled checked blouson jacket and well-creased trousers and approached me from a far distance.

I saw he was holding baby Ethan.

Then very deliberately, he walked up to me and with great import, he handed Ethan to me and said in a voice which I had not remembered before this moment "Ethan is my gift for you"."

LOU STEIN (Theatre Director).

Lou is a London based Theatre Director/Writer who founded the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill and has worked with such actors as Dame Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Chris Eccleston, Sir John Mills, and Helena Bonham-Carter in London theatres including the West End, The Royal Court, and for the BBC.

Writer/director Lou Stein reveals how his son, who has Down's Syndrome, inspires his work.