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The art of disability and living with impairment

Classical art was not inclined to explore the lives of disabled people. After all, the Western tradition has emphasized the perfection of classical form. To this tradition, the imperfections of disability can seem like a glaring affront. 

Newer forms of art, however, are finally starting to explore the emotionally rich yet challenging lives of people with disabling conditions. Some of these people, of course, receive Social Security disability benefits. This includes thousands of people in Southeast Michigan.

Some of these new art forms are now on display at a special exhibit in Chicago. The exhibit is part of the Chicago Festival of Disability Arts. It is called "Human Being II."

One purpose of the exhibition is to enable professional artists who live with disabilities engage in open discussion about what it really means, in human terms, to be disabled.

The contrast between such an open discussion and mainstream views on art about disability is clear. Mainstream views have tended to label art about disability as mainly or even exclusively intended for therapeutic purposes.

In other words, art was often seen as an instrument by which disabled people could come to terms with their disabilities. For example, art organizations might give access to their studios so that people with developmental disabilities or other disabling conditions could express themselves through art - and therefore cope better with their conditions.

That is certainly a worthy role for art. But for professional artists, an exhibit like "Human Being II" is an opportunity to explore more fully what it's like to live with impairments.

These mental or physical impairments are often lumped together under the term "disability," but they are all quite different in how they affect the experience of being human.

Source: "Living with disability on display in rare art exhibit," Medill Reports Chicago, Lindsey Peterson, May 21, 2013

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