Illuminating the Bad Mother in Contemporary Art

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)



Date of Award

Spring 2014


Most depictions of mothers in modern and popular art tend to be idealized projections of kind, loving, nurturing parental figures reminiscent of June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver. Yet the mother I grew up with in the 1950s was not kind or saintly; she was malevolent and abusive. As such I could never relate to the saccharine maternal images seen on television, in magazines, or in movies. Even today I continue to find dissonance between my memories and experiences of childhood and the myth of the good mother presented in American culture.The research for my master of fine arts thesis examines and illuminates the work of artists representing the archetype of the bad mother in post-World War II America. To bridge the personal "disconnect" with what is predominantly being exhibited and published, I am exploring my raw memories of an abuse-ridden childhood through a photographic narrative. The graduate thesis exhibit was composed of a photographic series produced to challenge society's ideals concerning the good mother from the point of view of a child who suffered.


Chad Smith

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities