Enabling Art Education: Recent Books That Explore the Intersection of Disability and Art Education

By Derby, John | Studies in Art Education, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Enabling Art Education: Recent Books That Explore the Intersection of Disability and Art Education


Derby, John, Studies in Art Education


Understanding Students with Autism through Art Gerber, B. L, & Kellman, J. (Eds.). (2010). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. 174 pgs.; ISBN 978-1-890160-48-7 (pb).

Art and Disability: The Social and Political Struggles Facing Education Wexler, A. J. (2009). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. 248 pgs.; ISBN 978-0-230-60629-6 (he).

This review comparatively discusses two recent books that intersect art and disability: Alice Wexler's (2009) Art and Disability: The Social and Political Struggles Facing Education and Beverly Gerber and Julia Kellman's (2010) edited book Understanding Students with Autism through Art. These books follow two landmark NAEA publications on disability: Nyman and Jenkins' (1999) Issues and Approaches to Art for Students with Special Needs and Gerber and Guay's (2006) Reaching and Teaching Students with Special Needs through Art. The newer books, like the former, complement one another as they differ in theory, praxis, and scope. Each book provides a new concentration within the canon of literature amassing art and disability, including disability studies, special education, art therapy, and art history.

Gerber and Kellman's (2010) Understanding Students with Autism is the sequel to Gerber and Guay's (2006) Reaching and Teaching, as indicated by its shared cover design, horizontal page layout, content organization, and authorship. Understanding Students with Autism exudes a more scholarly tone than its predecessor, with authors representing diverse perspectives within art education, special education, and neuroscience. Thirteen chapters are organized in three main sections - an overview of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), teaching scenarios, and community resources - with considerable overlap and repetition. Many chapters detail case studies with surprising attention to empathy rather than sympathy, reflecting a growing trend across disability-related literature to deeply consider the perspectives of disabled people or people with disabilities^ in addition to the concerns of their guardians and service providers. Although most authors write from an orthodox special education perspective, in which educators are regarded as service providers for dependent children, the book argues that successful teaching occurs when teachers really get to know their students and make significant changes to curricula and classroom environments. Understanding Students with Autism essentially addresses four aspects of autism: what it is, how autistic people think and behave, how to effectively teach children with autism, and the diverse contexts of art education. The book is appropriate for undergraduate and early graduate students in art education and special education, and instructors could easily select a few chapters or use the entire book. Practicing teachers will also find the book readable, informative, and useful.

Wexler's (2009) Art and Disability casts a broader net and targets a wider authence than Understanding Students with Autism by covering many kinds of disability rather than just one and by discussing the artwork of accomplished disabled artists along with art education concerns. The book is similarly structured with beginning chapters that introduce the topic, a lengthy co re section that explores the topic in detail, and closing chapters that discuss community education and other peripheral matters. The core section discusses art and disability according to different clinical categories: ASD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, learning disabilities, emotional disturbance and behavioral disorders, visual impairment, and traumatic brain injury. Wexler ardently acknowledges the inherent problem of labeling and categorizing disabled people, and each chapter details the perspectives of disabled people as well asthose of non-disabled stakeholders. In this sense, Art and Disability is reminiscent of Nyman and Jenkins'O 999) Issues and Approaches, which balanced orthodox and progressive perspectives. …

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