Carving a Path, Building a House: A Philosophical Reflection

(This post was originally posted by Christopher Worth on Facebook, see the original here)

Awhile back, I thought that I might write a book someday about the impact on the art world seen and unseen disabilities have had within art history. From Monet’s visual impairment to Van Gogh’s Bipolar… I’ve never thought about this project as focusing on the disability in a more enhanced way than anything else that the artist brought to their respective work. When I have brought it up to friends who know that I am a visual artist, they often say things like, “well, you better not highlight disability because you want it to be about the person’s work.” The fear is that people reading this book would get fixated on the disability and see nothing else.

To me, a fixation on a person’s disability by neuro-typical, regularly ambulating folks or anyone else is just a response to new stimuli, phenomena, that humans often have. You literally don’t know what you don’t know, and it seems to me that the cultural piece of disability could be the great equalizer, if disability can be seen as just another aspect of what a person brings to what they do.

By cultural piece of disability, I mean, Monet’s blindness impacted his painting. Van Gogh’s bipolar impacted his thinking, and therefore, his painting. My grandfather, who has a learning disability that affected his ability to read, can do high-level math and is in the space pioneer hall of fame. These disabilities aren’t something that can be explained away, as things that people had to overcome. These filters persisted for people forever. They are an extension of what I would call the operational intellect of the individual.

Operational intellect means being able to move through your world, applying and adapting your intellect as filtered through your disability in problem solving. The operational intellect, when creatively nurtured, can grow the mechanisms by which one problem-solves. If a person is never given the opportunity to grow their operational intellect, and they have the diagnoses of cerebral palsy, with mild intellectual disability, then that’s how they will remain, frozen in a state of arrested development. But if one grows their operational intellect, then that can go beyond one’s IQ, so that the person with traumatic brain injury, or intellectual disability, can continually grow their operational intellect. They can learn how to use a computer, can learn a new skill on the job, can push themselves to higher heights. The thing is, that is not despite their disability. It is because of it. Like with anyone, coupled with a person’s inabilities are numerous abilities, which are enhanced by their disability.

The idea is that in my eventual, but for right now, very “in the future” book project, all of my examples would be about the way disability enhanced not only the perspective of the artist, but their abilities. In order to push the community of people with disabilities forward, we must begin to craft our own tools for the making of our own road, that we can share with neuro-typical, regularly ambulating people, with the understanding that we can no longer be embarrassed by our unseen disability, or ashamed that because of our physical disability, we sometimes wet our pants, or that it takes me ten minutes to read one page. We have to understand that we can craft tools on our own creative path.

Audre Lord, the famous feminist scholar, would argue that differences must be acknowledged, embraced, and accepted in order to create new tools, and not just accept the tools given to us, bestowed upon us, by a helping system. I think she would push that forward by strongly suggesting that although we are all individually gifted with struggles and talents, we cannot build a house alone, carve a path to that house, and live there in solitary confinement. We are brothers and sisters. It is the trick of the system that affects neuro –typical, regularly ambulating, and the rest of us alike, to convince us that we are alone.

None of the artists from Picasso to Van Gogh, to Matisse, and even Golguin, that I know of, were ever truly alone. They found community. Picasso fed off of Matisse, and vice versa. The feminist scholar Audre Lord would, I think, remind us to check our privilege, know our roles, and invite difference, almost weirdness, to the table. Don’t count on people with disabilities to educate you on the path we are carving. Educate yourself, and come along.

Christopher was born in Bridgeport Connecticut where he was diagnosed and falsely diagnosed with an intellectual disability, he spent the first 10 years of his life in Foster Care. It was only after being adopted that Christopher began to be able to tap into his talents, as an artist, writer, on chair philosopher, and community organizer. Christopher lives and works in St. Louis Missouri.

Hayley FeddersComment