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Artistic Reassurance

Artistic Reassurance

bridgetmartha's picture

Walking into Camphill, even having been told in detail about the village, its mission, and all that it has to offer, I had no image in my head of what to expect. Perhaps because the concept seemed so intriguing to me, but also partially so concerning, especially in light of discussions about viewing disability as pathology and locking away individuals with disabilities as we lock away our elderly. Though I knew that this was a highly improbable parallel, I couldn’t help but fear, at worst, that these were relatives exiled by families who couldn’t otherwise look after them. But in actually seeing and exploring Camphill, in learning (with a surprising level of transparency) about  what it does and does not offer and the limits of its benefits, my fears were, suffice it to say, cast aside. I appreciate all that goes on at Camphill and look forward to learning more about the villagers’ experiences there—both the disabled and nondisabled/able-bodied and how they identify with their roles in the village.

Armed with both this background knowledge as well as our readings on the ethics of portraiture, I feel more comfortable in my ability to get to know my subject and portray them ethically (and, importantly, to treat them as a subject and not an object interlaced with pity or sympathy). I was feeling very hesitant about our artistic goals at first and, to an extent, still do.  My apprehension is in part due to my lack of artistic ability—how can I even hope to portray anyone when I can barely draw a fruit bowl?—but also due to the fact that I am doing a portrait of someone with a disability. When I mentioned our trip to my sister, she seemed dubious, commenting that it sounded like we were going to uncomfortably observing the villagers and that what we were doing seemed unethical. I tried to page through all I’d learned, to put into words what I already knew—that this was certainly not the case. Seeing Camphill in person and exploring the many forms of engagement (especially seeing the weavery) was exactly what I needed: a concrete way of seeing that the villagers reside in an interdependent community and of seeing that everyone is seen as a human and valued for contributions to this community. Given that Camphill itself has this attitude and that we have been discussing both attitudes towards and portrayals (artistic and otherwise) of people with disabilities, I now can say for certain that my prior reservations are without merit. Furthermore, I've been familiarized much more with how we can use our portraits to paint an honest narrative without the sympathetic, dehumanizing, sensationalized b.s. Although I clearly won’t be able to get a solid sense of what life is like in Camphill until I’m there and involving myself in the village beyond just taking a tour and getting introduced occasionally, I definitely feel more comfortable both looking towards our visit and looking towards our overall purpose and what I will be doing there.

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