|Myself giving an artist's talk at a DAC, |
Disability Arts Cymru launch event in May 2012
Someone asked me why I would want to label my art as disability art. I'm sure it all looks quite mysterious to the outside world. Well, to be honest, I'm still not sure how useful it is as the art has to be able to stand on its own regardless, and real practical support is hard to come by. However, it's something I had try out when I realized that there is such a community and tradition in the making. I was clearly no longer able to compete with able bodied artists, and it was not about trying to take an easy route as some people seem to think. Rethinking my approach was a pure necessity, and I gained a few things from this new way of thinking throughout 2012 . Here are some of my points;
Anyone who is disabled and creates art is a disabled artist. They can be deaf, dumb, blind, bound to a wheel chair with spinal injuries from an accident, suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis or any other disease that is more or less debilitating. I didn't know this until I discovered the supportive community for disabled artists and art here in Wales. Most people encounter some form of disability in their lives so there is no need to think of disabled people as very different from "the normal" human beings. Whether we like it or not illnesses are a fundamental part of our lives. Most people gain from a supportive and positive community even if it's only in a moral and emotional way.
Of course the definition of disability arts is controversial - but I won't go into that as it's all a bit complicated (you can read about various view points on the internet). Some of the disability art reflects peoples' disabilities, but usually it's not expected, or a condition even. Of course, some of my art does reflect these issues and it's seen as a positive thing by some people who help govern these communities. The disability arts in general is basically a community that supports the battle against inequality. Just as people have accessibility issues in the physical world - athletes being a case in point - artists with disabilities have accessibility issues in terms of how they are being treated and what kind of opportunities they have compared to able bodied people. Not least, as in my own case, a matter of not managing on the "normal world's" terms. I'm not sure the support is sufficient in my case though because I'm still considered "too articulate" and have "too great a body of work" behind me (in the Arts Council's rather devastating words since suddenly being good wasn't right). It's terrible politics in the end that govern who gets really useful support.
Outsider artists meet similar criteria, they get help to exhibit their work from charities such as Outside In because their disadvantaged position makes it too difficult for them to compete with "normal" and able bodied artists. In reality, these people tend more often than not to have serious mental issues and even a low mental age, and the art work is more often than not the kind of art that the art world doesn't recognise as valid art. I'm clearly on the fringe of this group of people, and I can see that it's the extremer end of the spectrum that gets most of the attention within this community.
The art world is ruthless, and this is something that has become even clearer to me while in Britain, and it's also something I have decided not to participate in any more. Part of my problem has been trying to push myself beyond my limits to compete with able bodied artists, and it simply wasn't working. I have been feeling burnt out and lacking in the joy of creating. As it was putting me under extreme pressure I decided to join these groups of marginal art. But - having tried it out I'm not sure it's right for me either. It's not so much being part of these groups per se, as being part of anything at all. Sometimes I feel more like an uber-outsider, someone who is always on the outside of everything, including that which is already on the fringes... perhaps it sounds a bit big headed but I simply don't know if I am able to be part of any community for real, so far I haven't found one that would meet with my needs in a really snug way. I continue to support the disability arts and fight prejudice, but other than that I don't know what lies ahead and how I'd like to define my art in the future.