Thursday, June 9, 2011

Disability and Art (Week One)

This is the first in what will probably be a weekly series of posts on some of my views about art and disability. It's loosely inspired by the documentary film "ARTS: Disabilities, Possibilities and the Arts" and partially on my own observations.

Before I delve into the deep stuff about what it means to be an artist with a disability and where the line is drawn between disability, art, art therapy and simply being someone who is an artist and has a disability, I'm going to talk about something I saw last week at the conference I attended. Something that bugged me.

There were several "Art by People with Disabilities" tables in the exhibition hall, selling jewelry, scented candles, paintings and the like. All done by artists with disabilities (In the words of a friend, "It looks like a flea market in here").

 The idea behind this is, in a way, great. However, the selling point of most of these organizations felt more like the agenda of an art therapy course. The buzzwords were "empowerment" using art as a tool for "disabled entrepreneurs".

Which it can be.

But selling the product specifically because it was made by a person with a disability is cheapening both the person and art as a whole. Some of these things were shoddily made. There were Justin Bieber bookmarks, folks, the kind of thing we made with a lamenting machine in the sixth grade. Making a person with a disability believe that they have produced something of quality--something worthy to be sold--and then letting people buy it solely because the producer is disabled... That's not fair to anyone.

There are disabled artists, painters, jewelry makers. Is it amazing that they've transcended their disability to do what they love? Maybe. Or maybe it's simply them overcoming obstacles for their passion, the way everyone else does at some time or other. And if the product is quality, by all means let people buy it, but don't guilt them into it by making disability the selling point. It's not fair to anyone.

If (when) I get published, I will be an author with a disability. And, let's be honest, I won't care about anyone's reasoning for buying my book, but I don't plan on ever saying "I have a disability and I wrote this, so, no matter what the quality, you should buy it." It's extortion, to my view, though I'm aware others don't see it this way at all.