Saturday, September 5, 2015

Disability Arts

Black icon of a movie camera
Cheryl Green, disability activist, artist, and co-host on my Disability.TV podcast about Glee, asked me to help spread the word about a new independent film called Becoming Bulletproof. It is a film in which disabled people participated at all levels of production, including playing most of the key acting roles. It has already won some film festival awards, and based on what I see in the trailer, it looks like a really, really good film. Click here to find out where you can see “Becoming Bulletproof."

It’s a bit of a departure for me to feel excited about a disability arts project. I’ve never been interested in disability arts. There are several reasons for this.

For one thing, I have an aversion to programs of any kind that are just for disabled people. Disability arts programs tend to look at first glance like segregated therapeutic programs that just happen to use art as their hook, rather than arts programs per se. It’s much more complicated than that, but I’m only just starting to realize it.

Also, I’m usually not fond of art that has some obvious external purpose. For instance, I don’t like highly politicized art. I am all for art that deals with political and social issues, but I prefer it to be subtle, natural, not driven into my head with a sledgehammer. When disability art isn’t explicitly therapeutic, it tends instead to attempt some very heavy ideological lifting.

Finally, I’ve always been skeptical of amateur and DIY art. I am sure there are great poets to be found at poetry readings, and I’ve seen a few performance artists who really impressed me, but I cringe at the thought of attending those kinds of events, because I guess I don’t have the patience to sit through something mediocre or ragged.

(By the way, I am painfully aware of the hypocrisy of an amateur blogger and podcaster disdaining amateur art).

This is where my internalized ableism comes in. I am ashamed to say that in the past at least, I have tended to equate “disability arts” with low-quality art … as if arts programs for disabled people necessarily produce bad art, uplifting for the artist perhaps, but not interesting to most audiences, including me. Put another way, I have assumed over the years that experiencing disability art is about doing some thing nice for the artists.

That’s why I am so excited by “Becoming Bulletproof.” Although it is integrated, with both disabled and non-disabled people involved, it does have a disability-related mission aside from art. Yet, it looks like everyone involved worked really hard to do everything really well, to entertain audiences, not just to satisfy themselves or have a meaningful experience. Whatever else the film accomplishes, it looks like it is a good, fun, well-made film … full stop. When I watch this film, it will be because I want to see it, not to support some kind of cause.

I can’t wait to see the whole movie, and I think it’s obviously long past time for me to explore disability arts with a more open mind.