Disability Art

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by Valerie Hilton, Student, Fitchburg State University

The “Disability Heritage: From the Medieval to the Local” exhibition goes in depth about disability history in order to shed light on a topic that isn’t spoken about by most people. The section titled “Through the Arts” was a particularly interesting part of the exhibit as I am someone who enjoys art and learning about art. This section of the exhibit is worth noting because art is a very important way for people to express ideas, beliefs, culture, themselves, and a wide variety of other topics. Not only does this section cover what we usually think art is, it also includes other forms of art like photographs, fictional works, and architectural works which shows this exhibition is thorough in looking at different mediums. “Through the Arts” meets the goal of the exhibit very well as we can understand the history of disability by examining several different forms of art closely.

The first piece written in this section, “Disabilities through Different Mediums of Art” by Christopher Sutcliffe, brings up the issue of underrepresentation of people with disabilities in art. Sutcliffe also explains what disability art is, which is defined as “trying to remove the stigma around disability and make people with disabilities better represented in all artistic mediums” (Sutcliffe). Disability representation in art is not something that I have really thought of before, and, especially since art greatly ties into history, is something that needs to be talked about mor,e which is why I’m glad it was included in this exhibition. Another strong point of this piece is that the author brought up examples of poor representation as well as strong representation, so that we as readers can understand the representation of people with disabilities that needs to be seen in art.

“The Importance of Reflecting Disability in Art” by Maddie Mantegani highlights instances when people with disabilities were not portrayed positively in art. Mantegani also mentions the poor representation we often see of people with disabilities in photos and in the media: “We always see images of what the captions say as ‘extraordinary’ feats and accomplishments. While this is a wonderful display, it also provides the suggestion that people with disabilities should be viewed solely as inspiration for those who are able-bodied” (Mantegani). I think that it’s important for people to learn about why this kind of representation is extremely harmful for the disability community. There are many people who are able-bodied who will share this kind of media thinking it positively represents people with disabilities. This article will spread awareness to others who might not know about "inspiration porn" and will hopefully make able-bodied people think twice before interacting with this media in a way that is harmful for the disability community.

Some other articles in this section are about works of fiction. I particularly enjoyed reading “The Representation of Disability within Fictional Works” by Fiona Campbell because there is a strong point made about people creating shows, books, and movies who put little effort in designing characters, which ends up representing people with disabilities very poorly. The author states, “Just as we do not want people to feel defined by their disability we do not want characters that are placed into a storyline just as a token representation of that disability” (Campbell). This explanation of the issue will help educate others and to encourage people to do research and get different perspectives in order to create characters and stories that represent people with disabilities in a positive way. I like that this article included examples of good representation, such as the piece about the show Legit, as well as bad representation with the piece about using disabilities to antagonize characters, because again, understanding the correct way to represent people with disabilities is crucial.

After reading through the section, “Through the Arts”, I learned a lot about representation of people with disabilities in art and what the community needs to do in order to improve those representations as the articles go in depth about many issues in many different forms of art. I believe that the points made in these articles will educate others about people with disabilities overall and will start more discussions about the issues created because of poor representation. By learning about the problems mentioned in “Through the Arts” and how to approach them by looking at disability history, the community can help leave a positive impact and people with disabilities can have positive representation in arts and the media overall.