Disability and Art

To me, disability and art goes hand in hand. When I struggled to communicate what I needed or wanted as a young child, I would draw pictures of it and then show my mum. When I felt isolated or misunderstood at school, I would walk around the playground, daydreaming about the different artworks and stories I could create. I had trouble understanding faces and emotions, so I drew them over and over to understand them better. I would go to the library and draw with my peers as a way of relating to them in ways I couldn’t with speech. I use my voice through art and I always have, because for me, art is about communication, from vague to complex ideas, for others and for myself.

Art has taught me things that I used to find hard to grasp and it bridged that gap between myself and others. My autism has informed my art in ways that I hope other neuro-divergent people would also understand. I used to be ashamed of my condition and how I believed it limited me, but now I’m proud of the unique insight of the world, its living inhabitants and complex topics that it has given me. Art has helped me to tackle the problems and trauma in my life that I hope makes others feel understood and validated too.

About a year and a half ago I went through my first psychosis episode that hospitalised me for nearly two months. A while later I was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder which is a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder. It completely changed my life and this new disability has brought so many new trials. But art, like always, has helped me. During those days in the psychiatric ward, I would spend my time painting and therefore processing my reality and emotions. At that time I found it hard to communicate what was happening for me, even to myself, so I would dump my thoughts, hallucinations, fears, questions and feelings onto a canvas. Just like when I was a kid, art helped me connect to others and myself in ways I couldn’t without it.

Art has the power to let us process emotions and become more brave with each stroke, which can be difficult to accomplish with those unable to voice their truth in other ways. Everyone who picks up a paint brush or a pencil or anything else to make a mark is a leader. It means having the courage to convey your being to others, communicating feelings and thoughts that can change the world and the way people think and act. People with disabilities often are incredibly insightful and wise and so their art is vital in our society that goes against emotional intelligence. We are needed.

Art is Therapy

  • Below is an excerpt from my book! It’s a first draft, so the final version of my book may or may not have this in it. Even so, I like this topic, so I wanted to make it a blog post!

I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again; art is therapy. However, it is also frustrating, crushing and disheartening. It builds up my being as well as it destroys it. If the process of every artwork always went my way and therefore was easy, then that would not make it truly and wholly therapeutic. The times when an artwork goes awfully awry and all I want to do is angrily paint a big blob over it, throw it or just simply cry, are just as much a part of the therapy.

Art challenges you, or more so it should, for if you do not push outside your comfort zone, whether in your art practice or in life, you will simply stay stagnant. Each piece is an adventure of emotions and processing, whether you do it consciously or subconsciously. So I try to embrace the challenges, see the importance and value of each “mistake,” and learn to love being an imperfect creator. I do not remember this all the time and so I sometimes question the validity of calling myself a true artist. But what does that title even mean?

Something I really dislike is that there are a lot of people who believe that to be a “true artist,” you must do or be X, Y, or Z. Anybody can be an artist, or practice art, and anybody should. When it comes down to it, especially when it is utilised as a form of therapy, it simply does not matter if you have the skills or talent. You can be as emotional and messy or precise and detailed as you want. If you open yourself up to it, it can be therapeutic for anybody and it does not matter if you claim to only be able to draw stick figures, for that is art too.

The more you indulge yourself in the beauty that it can bring, the more the process deepens. I really do truly believe that anyone can create and that everybody should. We can always try to implement creation into our lives, as long as we let go of fear and expectation.

It’s nearing the end of December now and this month I have tried my best to create as much as I could. However, the one thing I started the month with – what I called the eye painting – has been sitting on an easel, waiting for me to continue it all month. I do not have any idea how to keep working on it, because right now it seems finished to me. And it very well may be finished, but it was just too easy.

Therapy can be easy. That kind of therapy – the nice, relaxing and soft kind – has so many positive benefits, because it is safe, and for a lot of people, safety is what they need. But when therapy is challenging, it can uproot some heavy and painful topics or memories, which can also be therapeutic if done right. There is so much to say about how facing things that are difficult or uncomfortable can break ground on the real issues that need healing. Ignoring these issues, intentionally or not, can lead to the behaviour of falling on the ‘off switch’ when things get hard or uncomfortable.

It seems so dangerous to face your trauma, mental health or difficulties head on, and it is, in some way or form. But this facing of situations that seem dangerous is necessary to growth, understanding and moving forward. That is why choosing to do something that challenges you is so helpful for your improvement. It allows you to learn through experience and mistakes.

It is important to remember that challenging yourself should not lead to pushing your limits in an unhealthy and damaging manner. This is where emotional intelligence comes in; there are times when everyone needs to accept their own limitations and take part in self-compassion and forgiveness. It is about knowing when to stop, allowing yourself a break and the kind of understanding and love that helps you to continue with the trials of life.

Sometimes you need to put the paintbrush down or do what is easiest or kindest for you. There is absolutely no shame in that – in fact, it is necessary to look after yourself. Challenging yourself will not be effective if it would be unwise or unkind to do so. The balance of challenge and self-compassion leads to a good life and powerful artworks.

  • If you want to read more, the draft of my book is here. Thank you for reading!