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Disability Art and Artists: Information, Types and Examples

Disabled World: Revised/Updated: 2019/08/24

Synopsis: Information on disability art including artists with disabilities and submitted work by Disabled World readers - Submissions of artwork welcome. Many artists are creating enticing new work that often reflects their experiences with disabilities. Using the creative process of art as a healing force, can unite body, mind, and spirit.

Main Document

The Disability arts sector is a varied and historically conflicted one. lt is also one which has fostered the growth of companies and artists with national and international profiles. lt is one which could be developed to become the acknowledged leader of artistic excellence by people with a disability.

Disability art is defined as any art, theatre, fine arts, film, writing, music that takes disability as its theme or whose context relates to disability. Disability arts is an area of art where the context of the art takes on disability as its theme. Disability art is about exploring the conceptual ideas and physical realities of what is to be disabled or concepts relating to the word.

The spectrum in Arts and Disability stretches from "meaningful daily activity" or recreation for people who have limited social and employment options to emerging artists with raw talent and a great need to find the pathways along which they can journey. Professional artists, living from their work and acknowledged by others in their genre, complete the range. Many artists are creating enticing new work that often reflects their experiences with disabilities.

Digital graphic by Julius van der Wat created on iPad using Sketchbook Pro application.
Digital graphic by Julius van der Wat created on iPad using Sketchbook Pro application.

Artists with disabilities see themselves as leaders of change - they can give visibility and identity to the disabled community by translating the disability experience into works of art. Some of today's best artists deal with disabilities in their everyday lives that the rest of us can't even imagine living with, and use art to communicate with the world. The results are often stunning.

However not all emerging and professional artists who have a disability want to address the issue of disability in their work or even to have the fact of their disability known or made part of the marketing before the work has been taken on its merits. For some, this is both because their experience has led them to believe knowledge of the disability will always influence interpretation of their work and because their area of interest is not related to their disability.

Other artists with similar and different disabilities speak with equal passion about their determination to have their work taken on merit. At one level, this determination can be seen to expose the ugly reality of a world that does exclude and discriminate against people who have a disability to the point they prefer to keep that private. On another level however, for some people their disability is not necessarily related to their art and therefore, not something they wish to elaborate on.

Disability Art Facts and Statistics

  • Artists who identify as disabled and make work about disability are growing in numbers, as are curators who identify as disabled and curate exhibitions on disability.
  • The development of disability art began in the 1970s / 80s as a result of the new political activism of the disabled peoples' movement.
  • Non-profit, government-funded organizations dedicated to providing resources and support towards activities in disability art are numerous in countries like Australia and Canada.
  • Currently, the leading scholars in disability arts in the USA include Michael Davidson, Lennard Davis, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Ann Fox, Jessica Cooley, Joseph Grigely, Georgina Kleege, Petra Kuppers, Simi Linton, Ann Millett-Gallant, Amanda Cachia, David. T Mitchell, Carrie Sandahl, Susan Schweik, Tobin Siebers and Sharon L. Snyder, who write about a range of topics within disability arts, such as performance, literature, aesthetics, visual art, music, art history, theatre, film, dance, curatorial studies, and more.
  • Disability art is different from Disability in the arts which refers more to the active participation or representation of disabled people in the arts rather than the context of the work being about disability.
  • VSA, (previously Very Special Arts), the international organization on arts and disability in the USA, was founded more than 35 years ago by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith to provide arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities and increase access to the arts for all.

Using the creative process of art as a healing force, can unite body, mind, and spirit.

"The artist works by incorporating and gradually assimilating the exterior world until the object which he designs has become as it were a part of himself... and he can project it on the canvas as his own creation ." Henri Matisse, 1940's.

Submit Your Art, Gallery, or Website

If you are a person with a disability and would like to submit a picture/photo of your artwork - or if you feature your art on a website gallery - and would like your work published on Disabled World please contact us.



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