"I find, when I write, I don't want to write well-made scenes, narratives that flow, structures that give a sense of wholeness and balance, plays that feel intact. Intact people should write intact plays with sound narratives built of sound scenes that unfold with a sense of dependable cause and effect; solid structures you can rely on."
This quote from the Kuppers piece really stuck with me. I think that it is a really good summation of disability culture/aesthetics/art. When disabled people, who have been silenced for so long, are given the opportunity to make art, their art typically stands in opposition to the conventions and traditions of art (in the same way that their bodies and/or minds stand in opposition to the “normal”) that have silenced them. Riva Lehrer’s work, which subverts traditions in portraiture not only by depicting disabled people but also through her methods, is a good example of this. The “norm” in portraiture is that the subject does not get to make their own marks on the canvas; the “norm” is that the subject is not in motion; etc.
Another example of this -- and bear with me if this sounds weird -- are the Captain Underpants books. Captain Underpants is written by Dav Pilkey, who has ADHD and Dyslexia and, as a result of a rigid public school system structured for neurotypicals, was often made to sit in a special desk outside his elementary school classroom as a punishment. It was from this very desk -- a physical marker of his “difference” from his peers -- that Pilkey first came up with the character of Captain Underpants and began to draw his comics. Pilkey’s comics push back against obvious social norms that forbid scatological humor, particularly in books for children. But they also push back against the perfectionism and coherence that we see in modern media. The books move in and out of prose and comic, and the comics in particular are full of misspellings, crossed-out “mistakes,” and shaky lines.
But are these works consciously pushing back against boundaries in art, or do disabled people simply make the art that reflects them -- art that is not “intact” by people who are not “intact” -- and just by reflecting the disability of the creator, those artworks necessarily push against these boundaries?
Additionally, there are many disabled artists who do not identify as disabled, such as Judith Scott and the CCW artists. I want to explore the relationship that that work has to disability culture/aesthetics/art. Do these works have that quality of “crookedness” -- pushing back against norms -- that work by identifying disabled artists have? Judith Scott’s work in particular is interesting because it has been observed to actually seem to follow an artistic tradition, rather than break it, even though the artist herself is not aware of this. Can the work be “disability art” if the artist doesn’t identify as disabled? Can the work uphold artistic tradition when the artist is not engaging with that tradition?
There probably are not solid answers to all of these questions, but I think that they are worth exploring. In addition to an analytical essay, I might also produce a piece of art that reflects the project.
Other artists whose work I will probably talk about: Frida Kahlo, mixed-ability dance troupes, Flying Words Project
If you have any suggestions let me know!