Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

When Art Informs: Inviting Ways to See the Unexpected

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

When Art Informs: Inviting Ways to See the Unexpected

Article excerpt


In this essay I consider the arts--created and performed by artists with disabilities--as a site of productive knowledge for educators willing to interrogate the limits of scientific ways of understanding disability. A sample of artists who deploy the arts for self-understanding and self-expression informed by their experience living with disability in contemporary society is included here. The artists represent all disability categories in an effort to encourage LDQ readers to probe the multiple possibilities that exist for researching learning disabilities by reflecting on the cultural meanings ascribed to disability experience, and, in particular, those meanings authored by individuals with disabilities. The cultural flashpoints described here reflect a shift in understanding the disability experience in the present moment and, as such, hold great promise for translation and application by researchers and educators.


disability arts; cultural meanings, disability identity, disability expression


This article extends the theme for this special issue and the call for a multiplicity of methodologies in research on learning disabilities through discussion of arts-based interdisciplinary approaches to understanding disability. Artists with disabilities who draw upon lived experience across a range of disabilities are discussed, informed by theoretical analyses drawn from the interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary fields of disability studies, including those authored by educators (Danforth & Gabel; 2006; Ferri, 2006; Valle & Connor, 2010; Ware, 2001, 2006a, 2008, 2010; Ware & Valle, 2010). Although disability studies in education literature follows the spike in scholarly production of humanities-based disability studies of the late 1980s through the present (see Ware, 2010, for an overview), several recent journal special issues have focused on disability studies in education, signaling its growing appeal for educators (Baglieri, Bejoian, Broderick, Connor, & Valle, 2011; Connor, Gable, Gallagher, & Morton, 2008; Oyler, Hamre, & Bejoian, 2006). Whereas my own earlier work (Ware, 2001, 2003, 2006a, 2008) focused on disability arts in support of educational inclusion and the development of curricula to support teacher education, here disability arts serve as a site of productive knowledge.

I begin with a brief introduction to disability arts and disability aesthetics framed within the humanities-based disability studies literature. Examples from a variety of artists whose works are informed by lived disability experience and by the theoretical analyses included here are intended as an invitation to researchers and educators to broaden their understanding of disability experience. It bears mention that my exemplars are not restricted to the work of artists with learning disabilities; instead, artists who live a variety of disability experience--both visible and invisible have produced the works discussed here. It is not my intention to minimize the experiences of learning disability but, rather, to invite readers to consider how human difference, regardless of disability category, has been constituted as a historically devalued life. Furthermore, as someone who writes in disability studies, where the issues of labeling and the categorization of humanity are fundamentally problematic, I encourage readers to consider the merits of this article precisely because it is not exclusive to learning disability.

When Art Informs: The Difference Disability Makes

It is the participants in a culture who give meaning to people, objects, and events.... It is by our use of things, and what we say, think and feel about them--how we represent them that we give them a meaning.

--Hall, 1997

We only know our bodies through the knowledges available to us.

--Kuppers, 2003

In much the same way that art can inform all of our lives, among those whose lives are marked by the difference that disability makes (see Note 1), the arts can be of particular value for exploring a unique life experience authored by disability. …

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