Had a conversation recently with a visual artist who doesn't have much time for what he considers 'minorities' and their 'preferential' treatment from time to time. We were talking about disability arts, or the practice and idea of an organization such as Kaleido (which by the way, recently lost all its funding in the Arts Council cuts) putting on an exhibition in association with a mainstream gallery, including visual arts created by disabled/differently-abled artists. All different art mediums and all different challenges, eg; wheelchair users with varying mobility, MS sufferers, deaf people, blind people, etc.. He took issue with the the idea that just because the artists were disabled and created art, that didn't mean that their work should necessarily be shown in galleries because what gives you the right to exhibit is 'being any good'. So I tried to make some distinctions. There is the art that under 'normal circumstances' might not be considered all that great, but what's so impressive in the context, is that say, it was painted by someone who couldn't see. A friend used to send me cards printed from paintings by folks who could only use their mouths or feet to paint with. What struck me first was the fabulous use of colour and the wonderful striking images and bold style. It was only when I read the backs of the cards that I realized also what an achievement they were as well. But they were undoubtedly very fine paintings whoever had done them.
However, I have been to exhibitions and sometimes seen work that I didn't think was up to much. (But then I could say exactly the same of non-disability arts exhibitions!). It was the idea that no extra effort should be made to accommodate folks with extra obstacles in their way that I wanted to explore with him. So then a gifted artist I used to know sprang to mind. And I said - well, there was this truly wonderful artist who created amazing paintings of trees, and collages of moss in book form, and hundreds of tiny object-based collages, and who, as far as I know, usually exhibited in disability art exhibitions and forums, although they were easily gifted enough to be shown anywhere and everywhere. In that case, he replied, they should get themselves a better agent! Ah but, I pointed out, what can you do when someone gets a commission and then honestly can't be doing with making another huge artwork just then because their doctors have insisted they go in for another three operations in a row? How can you give the time and effort to insisting you should be entered for this or that competition when every day involves wall bars, drugs to take, the sheer grind of getting into your specially adapted vehicle and out again, the making sure you've got someone around to carry the pictures, the... He got my drift. Gifted as they and others like them are, you won't see their art in 'ordinary' exhibitions any time soon. Should it never see the light of day? Aren't we all poorer for it if those works don't get out there? Should we cut all extra provision for disabled artists that makes it possible that the gifted aren't just wasted? Or should we get off our backsides and go to their exhibitions and plays and suchlike to check out the amazing stuff such artists have been doing, and make sure we don't miss out!
Like every other sector of society and art, 'disability arts' has some chaff...but plenty of wheat in it too.
2 weeks ago