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People are Art Too

amweiner's picture


"But all bodies are not created equal when it comes to aesthetic response" (Siebers, Disability Aesthetics, 1)

This statement struck me when reading this week. I was taken aback by how raw it was. It is almost poetic in describing what may be considered discrimination. Disabled bodies don't present in the way as abled bodies- they don't conform to the 'norms' of society. Therefore, they elicit a gutteral and distinct response from others. As Siebers points out in his piece, people seem to have to dissociated disability with the canon and history of art. When looking at the distortion of faces in abstract art, we see a cutting edge understanding of the human form: "(art) embraces the beauty that seems by traditional standards to be broken, and yet it is not less beautiful, but more so, as a result (3)...Damaged art and broken beauty are no longer interpreted as ugly. Rather, they disclose new forms of beauty" (Siebers, 10). Art can be deformed and uncomfortable. But, people take the time to sit with it and seek understanding because they believe that there is beauty to be found. Art is inherently beautiful, but aren't all people? Why is our optimism restricted to art and not applied to all forms of people? Not many sit with someone who identifies as disabled and try to understand them. Not many would consider them inherently beautiful and having something to offer. In this sense, there seems to be more respect given to sculptures and paintings than to other people. 

Where is the difference? I believe that there is comfort and control in art. People can own a piece and usually the maker of it is not there to tell them what it really means or what inspired them. Therefore, people are given the power to decide for themselves what the piece means to them and its value. This is not possible in an interaction with a disabled person, or if it is, it usually results in ableism. Maybe we fear the interaction and what we don't understand. Maybe it would make us uncomfortable to tr and gain genuine understanding.

The creation of disability aesthetics marries disability and art: "disability aesthetics prizes physical and mental difference as a significant value in itself" (Siebers, 19). It shows that the way we respect all forms of art can be directly applied to all forms of people. However, while this theory seems great, what does that look like in practice? How do we get people to take the leap in trying to understand those that differ greatly from them?

It is neccesary to see disability as an aesthic because "disability is properly speaking an aesthetic value, which is to say, it participates in a system of knowledge that provides materials for and increases critical consciousness about the way that some bodies make other bodies feel" (Siebers, 20). In this quote, Siebers begins to answer my question. Not only can art represent the bodies and minds of the disabled visually, but it can be a way for disabled people to communicate for themselves and allow others a window into their souls: "The nature of each individual’s disability is so distinct and idiosyncratic, that you can’t generalize, you can’t generalize about anything. So each time you encounter a new artist in this work, it’s almost like you have to recalibrate, learn a new language, and then deal with that individual" (Matthew Higgs Sometimes We Need to get Uncomfortable). Like a piece of art, every disability is wildly different than the next. The time must be taken to understand each one. 

To me, each piece this week, at its core, called on us to see and find beauty in disability. The deviations from the norms are what we look back to and consider to be profound and groundbreaking when considering art, therefore it can be the same when analyzing each other. 

This idea, that art is a way to respect each other and way to understand each other, can be used to oppose to not only ableism, but perhaps many other forms of discrimination as well.

If we all would take the time to understand people as we do art, it may change the social constructs that even created the word 'disability'.