Books, Music and Film

5 Favorite Movies About Disability

It’s Disability Pride Month! Especially in smaller US cities, this celebration often gets overlooked. For this year’s reminder, I wanted to share my top favorite films centering around disability.

Benny and Joon

Though I was just a tiny pipsqueak when this movie came out, from what I know this film was pretty progressive for its time. It presents an honest snapshot of the strain and sacrifice caring for a family member with a disability or mental illness can often entail without turning the cared-for into a burden or someone to be pitied, which is a delicate but important balance. It also ultimately advocates for independence and autonomy. These two misfits, both with brains that work differently than what is considered “normal”, end up crossing paths in a pretty comedic way that involves a lost poker game. Benny is calm, easy-going, kind hearted, and incredibly knowledgeable on antiquated and obscure film history. He can recall a plethora of dates and trivia about his area of interest, yet he can’t read or write. June is impulsive and intense, and can experience pretty severe psychosis if unmedicated but is verbose and well spoken, an intuitive painter with a genius level vocabulary. As the Benny and Joon grow together along with the other colorful characters in their community, this film shows how we all have strengths and struggles. No one is meant to do things alone. We need all kinds and we need each other.

Mr. Blue Sky

Another film that is a sort of love story centering on disability, this one is low budget and lesser known. I’ll be upfront, the intro credits look like they were done in Microsoft Power Point, and the acting is a bit after school special. It’s definitely independent. Still, it has over a 7 rating on IMDB, I believe because of the unique view of interabled relationships.  The premise involves a love triangle between a group of old friends that grew up together as kids. Very Hallmark, except for one detail … one of the two ladies involved has down syndrome. I don’t want to give too much away, but as the plot unfolded and the male character admitted his unconventional crush, even I had trouble wrapping my mind around it. I was challenged to ask myself why I found this confusing when they are two consenting adults who both have an understanding of their feelings. Challenging is exactly how I’d describe this film, and why I’ve thought of it often since first watching it last month despite the fact that it arguably isn’t the best made film in the world. Some stories just need to be told.

Best And Most Beautiful Things

Be prepared to be challenged again by this documentary. Michelle, our leading lady, is so vibrant and interesting you will wish you could hang out with her for a day. She is legally blind and autistic, and has struggled to fit in throughout her life only to finally find her place within the kink/s&m community. This documentary is not about sex. It’s about discovering your identity(ies) (we are all so much more of an “and” than an “or”), it’s about breaking barriers and assumptions, it’s about how people with disabilities are expected to live in a perpetual state of childhood and treated like they are all the same (For more on how people with disabilities can and do participate in alternative subcultures, see the fabulous Drag Syndrome). Seeing someone who loves who they are and just shines (I was an unconfident, self-deprecating mess at 20!) is a message we can all receive and apply to our own lives.

Special

Ok not a movie, but this show is just plain fun and has all the trappings of a hip, witty sitcom but the main character happens to be a gay man with Cerebral Palsy. What makes it so different is the genuineness of the situations and dialog, I’m sure because the starring actor is also the writer. Ryan O’Connell based the show on his own experiences. His mother is another major player in the story who had her own arc around caregiver burnout, yet still having a difficult time letting go when her son wants independence and privacy. There are plenty of deep, sometimes very uncomfortable situations explored, always with humor, grace, and dignity.

Margarita With A Straw

Hailing from India, this coming of age story follows a college student who travels to America to attend school in New York.  I’m going to get my one gripe out of the way early: I wish they would have cast an actress who actually had Cerebral Palsy. For insight into why this matters when “isn’t the point of acting to pretend to be someone else?”, see this short Ted Talk by Maysoon Zayid. If you don’t want to watch the whole thing skip to minute 7.

Like many at this age, the main character is finding who she is, discovering her sexuality and what she wants in life. She grapples with finding someone who finally ‘sees’ her, but still having romantic feelings towards someone else. It’s messy, she makes mistakes, she hurts people … You know, just like we all do sometimes. That’s kind of the point. Disability activism is also touched on which I think is great, as I wasn’t introduced to that world until I met some very cool people through my work … more about that at the end!

Eagle Vs. Shark

Ok, I had to add an extra one to the list because this movie is so under watched and just one of my beloved favorites. This movie was Taika Waititi’s directorial debut back in 2007, before he was a big old deal after working with Marvel. When people have seen it, they inevitably compare it to Napoleon Dynamite due to the purposeful awkwardness and quirky wardrobe, and this honestly annoys me to no end. This movie is so much more than eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity. Though disability is never mentioned, it’s pretty obvious the two main characters lie somewhere on the ASD spectrum. Amongst the quirk and whimsy serious themes such as grief, isolation, broken family relationships, isolation, trauma, bullying, and betraying yourself to be loved and accepted are all integrated into the more lighthearted moments.

Edit … One more! I was just about to hit post and I thought of another film that I just had add to the list last minute.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly

This film is a true story about Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a stroke and became almost completely paralyzed at 43 except for his left eye. It is based entirely on a memoir he wrote after the accident. How could he do this when he has what is called “locked in syndrome” (the mind still works as it always did but the individual is “locked in” to a body that can no longer move or communicate) and can’t speak? He and his speech therapist devise a system of spelling out words using a blinking system to indicate certain letters with his eye that can still move. I can’t fathom experiencing something like this. Beyond my astonishment at Bauby’s determination I don’t think I ever realized that speech therapists quite literally save lives. Throughout the film are also Bauby’s personal reflections on how different he became after the accident not just physically but spiritually and emotionally. Leading up to what happened he was … well, a bit of a jerk. He reflects, “Does it take the harsh light of disaster to show a person’s true nature?” It’s a tough watch, but always a creative soul, Bauby in his own way triumphs through what I can only imagine is unbelievable psychic pain, “My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly”.

I had the most wonderful experience of hosting a disability pride party this year at my workplace. Our art students with disabilities shared stories and performances, and I could tell from the whispers and reactions of guests that people went home a bit changed, with a new perspective on people with disabilities in our community.

If you’d like to see more of what we do at Creative 360, please visit our online gallery. You can watch some of the performance footage in the Acting Gallery. My favorite thing about art is its power to unlock untapped potential, and its ability to bring vastly different people together.

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Exhibitions and Other News

Now Showing : Breaking The Stigma

I have not been making as regular and in-depth posts as usual over the last year as I’ve gotten busier and have been devoting more time to youtube, but I wanted to share about a very special show I am a part of this month running through February 20 called “Breaking The Stigma“.

I was beyond thrilled with both the priviledge and responsibility of being invited to be part of a show centering around using art as both a personal therapy and a way to communicate inner experiences in a way that makes them accessible and understandable to people from all walks of life. I’ve written often on this site on what an important communication tool art always was to me as someone with anxiety, especially social anxiety. In a recent Throwback Thursday post (Yes, I promise I will be getting back to those!), I talked about how even as a young kid I was prone to using art to tackle darker themes or difficult emotions. Art allows for a method of transparency and vulnerability that can often be easier for others to understand and embrace than by using words alone. Aside from the end result, the process itself of art making has the power to manifest a sense of purpose and peace no matter what else may be going on around the creator.  Creativity allows people to unlock their untapped potential. I see this firsthand in the classes I teach where many of my students are beginning artists or artists with disabilities

You can read the article announcing the show opening which introduces the other artists involved in this show and shows photos of some of their work. I wanted to also share some of my personal thoughts about their art.

David Feingold’s art was exciting for me to see because a lot of it I would consider surreal portraiture which is the subject I myself enjoy creating most, but it was digital rather than traditional. His narratives were very personal, and spoke directly to the title of the show as they addressed the idea of mental health stigma head on. I found myself inspired to once and for all fully explore creating art digitally this year.

2 of Rebecca Allen’s pieces have been familiar to me since before I knew they belonged to her, as they take up residence in our elevator lobby display where I also maintain a showcase for my students with their work for sale. I loved the surreal nature of her figures. They are raw and honest, and the pain they feel is visually represented in the sharp, rough textures of her sculpture. They invite you to step into another’s shoes and imagine yourself in their situation and struggles.

Cynthia Keefe’s art dolls were very … approachable and trustworthy to me, though that may seem odd to say. They felt alive. Many of them have serious or even near faceless expressions and some in contrast are reaching outward, with mouths contorted in anguish or extreme emotion. Still, they seem like beings I would come to for reassurance or counsel in the important act of seeking the perspective of an older and wiser female. They have seen and experienced much, their story woven into their skin and intricate clothing.

For those in the area, we will be having a discussion panel on February 3. Follow the Creative 360 website and get on the mailing list for regular updates :).

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Gifting, New Work

Support Artists With Disabilities! – Happy Disability Pride Month

As Disability Pride month comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the vibrant artists with disabilities I am priviledged to share my life with, and also remind you that we definitely shouldn’t confine our recognition of the talent and worth of those with disabilities to just one month. In fact, I never even knew there was a Disability Pride Month OR that disability rights had been part of the other early civil rights movements until I started working with individuals with disabilities and a disability rights activist informed me of all this.

For a fantastic, concise video on why there may be this disconnect and why it doesn’t make sense since we will all experience disability at least temporarily at some point in our life, check out Sitting Pretty.

I have never met a more innovative, unconditionally loving and accepting, open and expressive group of people than the neurodiverse artists I work with in the Express Yourself Artshop Program.

One of the hardest parts of supporting artists with disabilities is finding their work in the first place. We have an online store where you can purchase original art and handmade wares, as well as a print-on-demand Redbubble Shop that offers all our unique student designs covering wearables, bags, mugs, home decor, and a variety of other high quality products. I absolutely adore Redbubble and own many products from them myself. I feel they are the best value in a POD site. Myself and my team are passionate about discovering our students’ untapped potential, getting their art out into the world, and helping them support themselves through what they love to do.

This idea of inclusion and celebrating difference as something that makes our community better ties right in to my current largescale project: a “mini mural” for Midland’s Neighboring Week. I have 3 vastly different individuals represented: a middle aged white woman with down syndrome, a young black male, and a mid-late 20s-aged Latino woman using a wheelchair. Heart, Mind, and Spirit are represented by graphic elements connected to each individual. This symbolizes the importance of opening our hearts to others’ stories, and the fact that we need all different types of brains working together in order to be the best community we can be. 

Every person on earth has value, and every person’s story is important.

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Uncategorized

Judith Scott: Creative Minds Art History Project

Judith Scott is a world renowned fiber artist with down syndrome. She spent most of her life in an institution, and her natural gifts may never have been discovered had her sister not fought for guardianship later in Judith’s life and enrolled her in an arts education program. It was here that they discovered she had a natural eye for form and color as she started combining and wrapping objects in yarn entirely on her own to make fantastical abstract sculptures. Being that my group I work with is primarily adults with disabilities, I love sharing stories like this. I also thought this project would be a nice break from a traditional art assignment because it’s completely open ended.

This project is intuitive, fun, and a little crazy. Repeatedly students throughout the process would laugh and say, “I have no idea what I’m trying to do…” but they were engaged and smiling! Sometimes you need to just let loose and allow creating to be about nothing more than the process, enjoying the act of assembling, the feel of the different textures of material, just let your senses take everything in.

We started with an armature, frankensteining together random objects to create the shape we would wrap with yarn. Then, we got to wrapping. It works best to use as little glue as possible to still have the wrapping stick so you don’t get a soggy mess. I used some at the beginning and end, and just wrapped tightly so the rest holds on its own.

Some became inspired by a real living thing they chose to abstract, and some just let the shape of their chosen object speak for itself. It was very interesting to see what each individual came up with!

This is a great boredom buster for kids as well, and doesn’t use a lot of materials… Just yarn and literally anything laying around the house you would usually toss or just don’t know what to do with. It is also a wonderful segway into discussing that individuals with disabilities have rich inner lives; interests, goals, and achievements just like we all do – and that we all reach our full potential best when we have someone who is willing to come by our side, be a friend, and believe in us!

If you end up trying this at home, please share I’d love to see pictures! Have fun :).

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Art Discussion, Exhibitions and Other News

Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit At Art Reach

Amidst a lot of bad news on a worldwide scale lately, I was blessed to receive some good news: One of my pieces shown in Art Reach’s Women’s Centennial Celebration Exhibit, July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit, was awarded Best Of Show. This piece received a 2nd place award previously in 2018’s Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, and was a part of my Unlimited series shown in ArtPrize 9 in Grand Rapids. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to delve into this work deeper.

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July: She Is Free

A vital part of my Unlimited series was being sure I represented a variety of ages, races, and also abilities in my portraits. Though varying abilities can mean many things and a lot of disabilities are invisible, I wanted to represent an easily recognizable visible disability that is not often seen represented in art. I chose to depict a young woman with down syndrome.

When people think of the lives of individuals with disabilities, often all they can see is the struggles. Yes, we need to be aware of the struggles and be sure that we stand up for the rights of individuals with disabilities, make sure they have access to the healthcare they need and tools to help them live as independently as possible in their communities. But, like all people, individuals with disabilities are multifaceted beings. People with disabilities are rarely seen depicted in art, and are seldom shown in any media as empowered beings with their own unique personality beyond having a disability. I wanted to depict a woman who was confident in her own skin, and believed in her own unlimited potential.

The symbolism in this piece can mean different things to different viewers, and I love the fact that art is open to interpretation. That being said, I wanted to share what I was thinking when I created this piece. But remember, even as the artist, my interpretation is by no means the only interpretation :). I drew the face in prismacolor pencil. I wanted a scene around the head(mind) that exuded peace, so I filled in the hair with a watercolor landscape scene. Along with inner peace I wanted to depict the idea of freedom, of this woman not being limited by anything despite what others may assume. Birds taking flight have always been one of the biggest symbols of freedom to me, so I used prismacolor markers to draw birds in the same colors as the landscape circling around her. I reinforced the bird imagery with metallic gold prismacolor pencil in a radial flying bird pattern on her shirt, with an empty birdcage in the center of her chest. I wanted the figure and background to be seamless and flow into each other, but also wanted something to set off the figure so that she was the main focus. I wanted her face especially with its welcoming, content, confident expression to stand out. Using a black base created contrast, and I filled in this galaxy background with stars in the same pastel colors used throughout the rest of the piece. In most of my portraits I use the background to speak to the content of the figure’s mind and soul, and a galaxy fit perfectly to me as something vast and unlimited. 

“July” is very close to my heart, and the meaning behind it signifies why I am involved in the arts to begin with. In running an arts program for adults with disabilities, I feel I have found my purpose. I am excited to continue using art to form connections between all different types of people, help others tap into their unexplored potential, give a voice to those that often go unseen, and challenge ideas of what beauty is in art.

Art prints are available in my ebay shop!

There will be virtual tours of the show available through Art Reach soon. I can’t wait to see all the other work up close!

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Artists To Know

Artists To Know : U of M Museum of Art

It had been awhile since I’d gotten out of town to do something fun, so I took a day trip this month to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, because who can say no to free inspiration? In addition to an array of art from centuries past with an especially robust Asian art section, there were some more recent pieces that really impacted mem resulting in some new favorite artists – all with amazing stories.

Guillermo Meza

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I am a mask enthusiast as well as a fan of anything inspired by surreal or dreamlike imagery, and the composition and color in this piece propelled me over to it like a magnet the moment I walked into the first room.

Meza is known for fantastical landscapes and distorted figures. He grew up in Mexico City, the son of tailors. His family was not wealthy and he himself only completed school through 9th grade, but they were a family that valued arts, music, and culture, and he started drawing as a child and never stopped. He helped support his family by illustrating for magazines. Other working artists took notice, and he was recommended to Galeria de Arte Mexicana by none other than Diego Rivera. I love his story because it shows that yes opportunity helps, but what more so determines success or failure is an artist’s skill and devotion to creative practice. 

Marcus Jansen

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Marcus Jansen is originally from South Bronx and now resides in Florida. He was always interested in art, but chose to enlist in the military as a career. He is a veteran of Desert Storm who upon returning to civilian life in 1999 found he had trouble adjusting, and struggled to find work. He started selling his paintings on the street, and garnered recognition for his unique, abstracted landscapes that often include social and political metaphor. ​He is the founder of the Marcus Jansen Foundation Fund, which assists low-income community organizations in South West Florida by bringing them arts, music, and cultural awareness. His foundation also supports organizations that help veterans diagnosed with PTSD, bringing them art as a form of expressive therapy. This is another artist who I liked even more after not only just seeing their physical creations but researching their personal story. His work for me created a dynamic new world that I couldn’t step away from, with a unique blend of realism and abstract and a specific style that is completely new, a hard thing to achieve in this time when it sometimes seems everything has been done. 

Ouk Chim Vichet

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The above piece was part of the Peace Art Project of Cambodia. PAPC is a project sponsored by the European Union as well as some celebrity donors in which students at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh worked on projects turning weapons technology into peace time vocations by using them as an art material for beautiful sculptures. This particular piece depicts Asapara, a female Buddhist figure whose traditional dance holds an important place in Cambodia’s culture and history. The juxtaposition of the elegant, peaceful figure with what she is created out of is a strong image conveying the end of violence. 

Mari Katayama

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I had already been a fan of this artist, so in this case it was a very special moment for me to see one of her installations in person. I hadn’t even checked out the website for the museum beforehand, just decided to go, so I didn’t know she would even be showing. I love random life surprises like this! Mari Katayama is a Japanese artist who was born with a rare developmental condition. She had to have both her legs amputated at age 9, and has only 2 fingers on her right hand. She began photographing herself at first to understand her own identity beyond society’s simplistic, “one size fits all” view of individuals with disabilities. She says that she doesn’t view her images as self portraits though, more that she uses her body as an art material to communicate messages about body image that she feels speak to both individuals with disabilities and able bodied individuals. It’s no secret I’m big into mixed media, and I love the idea of someone using their own body as an art medium. I also am interested in her use of recreated fiber art limbs, and the mix of indoor and outdoor environments used in her overall installation. There is not near enough disability visibility in arts and entertainment, and Katayama’s work is incredibly important. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed my favorite finds! As always, if you have a favorite artist feel free to leave their name in a comment. I love discovering new sources of inspiration!

 

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Exhibitions and Other News

Weekend Art Experience at Creative 360

This past Saturday I enjoyed being a part of an art experience at my workplace, Creative 360 Studio and Gallery. I call it a art experience rather than an art fair because it was so much more than just an opportunity for people to “buy stuff”.

We had a diverse group of local artists working in a variety of mediums and styles, and also featured beautiful art and handmade items from our artists with disabilities in the inclusive arts and wellness program I run, Express Yourself Artshop. Treats were catered by the program’s culinary class.

Throughout the day, we also enjoyed a number of performances by talent of all ages and abilities. Our Artshop Community Theater members each performed the monologues they wrote portraying themselves as their favorite artist, writer, or musician. There was a singer who performed a song they’d written about their personal faith. We were treated to a vibrant stand up comedy routine by a very young aspiring comedian, complete with some mind bending riddles at the end 😉. A young woman with autism who has been passionate about playing piano since she was 2 performed a series of pieces.

One of my personal favorite parts about participating in fairs is the fun of art trades, and I was thrilled to go home with a cozy fleece blanket perfect for the sudden descent into winter over here in Michigan, and an amazingly unique “80s Death Mask” (Check out the artist’s shop for some of their other sculpture and mixed media work).

Attendees found the fair inspiring, joyful, and uplifting with an environment of openness that encouraged sharing and connection. These events can only be as successful as the number of people who come out to support our local talent and enjoy the atmosphere of creative community! We are hoping to do another fair in the Summer, and in the more immediate future we have our Express Yourself Artshop Talent Show coming up this Monday the 18th at 6:00 inside Creative 360’s gallery.

I am also working on adding more inventory to Artshop’s online store featuring all student made fine art and crafts. Having the opportunity to get their creations out into the world provides a sense of confidence, ownership, responsibility and motivation for our students and also allows them to make income for themselves. Be sure to check back as I am going to start filling the store this week and next! For those in the area, hope to see you at our next event :).

 

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Artist Bio

Interview With The Artist

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for an article on the website of a local artists’ group I’m a part of. The interviewer asked some thought provoking questions, so I thought I’d share my answers here for those who are interested in gaining a little more insight behind my work and process. You can also check out the resulting article on the Exploding Circle of Artists website. Friend and fellow artist Heather Deogracia manages and writes articles for the site, and I’d also encourage you to check out her blog. She is an innovative artist, fierce mental health advocate, and regular volunteer and supporter of art happenings in the community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have been drawn to creating pretty much since birth, and was lucky to be supported and encouraged in this from a young age. Art has always been a therapy for me and a vital avenue for communication and expression as someone who has also experienced social anxiety well, pretty much since birth. In addition to creating art myself, I also run an inclusive arts and wellness program at Creative 360 geared towards adults with disabilities. Every day I see how creativity both empowers the creator and impacts those around them. Integral to my own personal art and my day job is the idea that everyone can be an artist, everyone can do something creative that touches another person and it is never too late to begin.

2. How do you work?

For the most part I work in my home studio. I started out as primarily a pencil and ink drawing and watercolor artist, but at this point it is rare that I only use one or two materials in a piece. I have fallen in love with mixed media, and though the main bones of my art are usually created in prismacolor pencil, ink or watercolor, I enjoy mixing in acrylic, metallic enamel paints, beads, fabric and lace, old jewelry pieces, collage from old books, and other findings. I especially enjoy using materials I have been gifted by friends or family that have a specific memory or story attached. For a recent project, I used sparkly lace scraps leftover from a very extra angel costume my mom sewed for me when I was five, and some mismatched clip-on earrings that belonged to my grandma.

3. What are the background themes and ideas that makes your work stand out?

With my art, I enjoy making the internal external. I’m very interested in the dynamic of the individual’s public/interacting self versus their private self. Rather than using dramatic facial expressions in my portraits, I tend to leave their expressions mysterious and neutral and let the external surroundings speak to the content of the subject’s mind and soul. This most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the people who inhabit it. Much of my work involves psychology and is inspired by my own thoughts and experiences, but I like to leave the visual narratives open ended so that each viewer can bring their own experiences to a piece and connect with it in their own way.

I am fascinated with the detail in both the external and internal structure of all living things; humans, plants, and animals. The natural world around us is truly filled with the most amazing forms of living sculptures if we take the time to look, and keeping this idea in mind reminds me even on the worst of days how luck we are to be alive. This appreciation of observing and exaggerating the most minute details in the world around us is another element that finds its way into my work.

4. How would you describe your style and how is it integral to your work as an artist?

My style is very vintage inspired, and I like to make my art timeless in a way by incorporating visual elements from all different time periods. I am also influenced by surrealism, and always want to show people something in my art that they can’t see in real life. In my work with portraits and figures, I look to antique photos as a reference and usually combine multiple sources to create the exact body and face I am picturing in my head for a certain piece. I am very much a visual thinker, and one day a friend was venting to me over the phone about a stressful week she’d had. (I promise I was listening, but …) As she was talking, I started to see a little cartoon in my head of her standing staring at me, wearing a tall top hat, and her brain was growing out of the top of the hat with all types of different objects representing what she was thinking about sticking out of the protruding brain … The image was a nice blend of hilarious and disturbing, and also gave me the idea to start doing portraits with visual representations of each subject’s thoughts flowing outside of their body.

5. What role does the artist have in society?

Though we don’t always realize it, art and design is everywhere around us in our society … In the music we hear, in the buildings we live and work in, in the ads or posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the movies and tv shows we watch, and the list could go on and on. Without art, our world would be empty, inefficient, and without meaning. Beyond that, art has the power to give people a voice. Art is an important tool for communication, and is able to open people’s minds to ideas they may not be as receptive to if delivered in a different way. Each artist has to define their own role for themselves based on the goals they have for harnessing their own personal form of creativity. As for me, I feel called to use art as a tool for connection and reaching out to others. Sharing the therapeutic benefits of creating with others is a priority for me because of the anchor I know it has been in my own life. I aim to make art and creativity accessible to all, no matter their age, ability, income, or any other qualifier. Do artists have to use their skills to make the world a better place? I suppose no one technically has to do anything as we all have autonomy over our own lives, but I certainly think they should.

6. What is your favorite artwork you’ve created and why is it your favorite?

This is a hard question as I develop a connection to almost every piece of art I create like they are my children, no joke. That being said, at this point my favorite piece of art I created is “July: She Is Free”. This piece was from a 12 part series titled “Unlimited” that I showed at Founder’s Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2017. The series was comprised of 12 mixed media, surreal portraits in which the meaning was influenced by the use of pattern and color. The series depicted women of all ages, races, and time periods, each communicating a different story. The aim was for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we currently reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day lives all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears, relationships… Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. We are all worthy of love, safety, respect, and dignity. I am particularly attached to July because it depicts someone with a visible disability, something that is almost never seen in portrait arts. I am a huge proponent of disability rights, empowerment, and visibility. This piece was shown and awarded at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition of 2018, and I actually overheard an attendee afterwards whispering to a friend, “But why would you want to draw those kind of people?” This is why I do what I do. Visibility and education are vital, as prejudice is rooted in ignorance. I aim to continue to challenge what beauty is in art.

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Art Education, Project Ideas

Elizabeth Jameson – Creative Minds Art History Project

Hello all, it’s time for another artist based creative project! I have a great group of ladies in my Creative Minds class this semester at Artshop, and have loved seeing how they interpret the techniques of the masters and make their creations their own. Though often times the focus of my class is renowned artists from history, I also love sharing inspiring and accomplished artists from the present with my students. I work primarily with adults with disabilities so I especially enjoy the opportunity to share the stories of artists with disabilities with the class, and how the artist’s identity as a person with a disability influenced their art and legacy.

Elizabeth Jameson is a visionary artist who found her creativity through an unexpected MS diagnosis. Jameson is a Doctor of Law, and her lifelong passion and driving force for her career was to fight injustice and poverty through the law, striving to make a difference. In the late 70s and early 80s her health took a turn suddenly, and she was eventually diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Due to the progressive nature of her illness she was unable to continue working, and she felt her purpose was lost. A caring friend pushed her into trying an art class just to get her out of the house, and this class ended up changing the way Jameson saw the world and her life. Art teaches us to look at the world through a creative lens, and upon receiving her usual MRI scans from a doctor’s appointment, she came up with  the idea to etch in the stark, clinical and emotionless black and white images with rainbow colors. Her work evolved from there. Today, Jameson is still living her dream of changing the world, and says the goal of her work is to encourage others to, “contemplate the beauty of the brain, discuss what it means to live in an imperfect body, and to stare directly at the imperfect brain’s beauty and complexity with curiosity”. She collaborates with Neuroscientists and a studio assistant to continue her work.

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Messages that can be learned from Jameson’s art and story are that with creativity it is never too late to begin, it doesn’t make you any less of an artist to ask for assistance, and individuals with disabilities have an unlimited potential to change the world for the better.

Obviously, we don’t have access to MRI machines ;), but to pay homage to Jameson’s art we did drawings with colored pencil on black paper. Students were asked to imagine a visual representation of the inside of their head, thinking about the emotions or memories different colors may symbolize, what straight, smooth lines versus wavy or jagged lines may say about what is going on inside their head, and to think of any representational forms that speak to who they are. Some students chose to indicate blocks of color for the different things that consume their thoughts, and some chose to do an all-over image or pattern. One student even dated hers in acknowledgement that one’s mental state changes over time.

I can see this project being an interesting activity for any age, and was pleased within my class on how a dialogue between the students about the meaning of their developing “artistic MRIs” grew as they worked.

As always, feel free to steal, share, or try it yourself at home :). I am hoping others will enjoy and become inspired by trying this project out.

 

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Artsnacks Unboxing

February ArtSnacks Unboxing!

Hey guys! So, I was very candid about hating the end result of my ArtSnacks Challenge from last month, and this month threw me another curve ball with a medium I have consistently avoided when at all possible, even in high school and later college art classes: chalk pastels!

In my February box, I received a:

As I eluded to, I have never been a fan of pastels, charcoal, or any chalky medium mainly because I struggle to get the fine detail I want as someone who also likes to work small; I can’t keep it from getting where I don’t want while I’m working (messy, messy, messy!); and I have a weird thing where I just hate the feeling of it on my hands as well. Still, I did enjoy using these more than most. The quality is great even for one like me who doesn’t know what they’re doing as far as pastels, the colors were rich, and they did stay put on the paper much better than lower quality soft pastels. I’m going to skip ahead to the Kraft Paper, because this paired perfectly with the pastels. Comparing the feel and ease of blending on the swatch of Kraft Paper compared to the mixed media paper in my journal, there was no contest. It just goes to show that the right paper can do wonders! The brown tone really made my colors pop too, and lent such a finished, harmonious look especially with my earthtoned set.

I’ve mentioned before I almost exclusively use mechanical pencils, and the Zebra DelGuard is another nice one! I’ve never been disappointed by a mechanical pencil sent in my ArtSnacks box. The led was smooth and dark, and I love the fact that there is a built in mechanism to keep leds from breaking! Though I don’t usually use kneaded erasers most of the time, the eraser that came in my box was also quite nice and will come in handy when I am doing commission requests that are entirely in graphite.

Last but certainly not least, the artist pen that came in this box was my absolute favorite item! With white paint pens, oftentimes it takes 2 coats but this India Ink based pen had perfect coverage with one go-over. I was also shocked at how well it wrote over the pastel! The tip didn’t even get much discoloration … It hardly absorbed any of the pastel and just needed a little scribble on a scrap piece of paper to clean it off at the end. I could see how a lot of neat effects could be created with this in much of my mixed media work, and will definitely be getting more of these.

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As mentioned, I am NOT a pastel artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I let the pencil outlining help me out and I do like this month’s result better than January’s! February being black history month, I chose to illustrate a portrait of Haben Girma with a powerful quote of hers that has stuck with me. Girma is a deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, and a fierce advocate for disability rights which is an issue close to my heart, especially given that my day job is running an inclusive creative arts program open to adults with varying disabilities. I’d encourage you to read more about this amazing lady, and watch some of her talks.

“Fear causes people to lose so much. Lose potential knowledge, lose potential friends. I wish people would stop living in fear and start asking questions so that they can learn. “

 

 

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