WTFery in the art room.

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So I go to this resource center where I can paint, and lots of other developmentally disabled people go there too to do various forms of art. Generally, everyone does whatever they want to do. But there’s this one guy whose situation really bothers me. Okay, so this guy is blind. And he likes to sculpt. And every day he goes in there, they make him draw with colored pencils for a certain amount of time before he’s allowed to sculpt. He repeatedly tries to say that he’s done, and they keep telling him that he’s not done until they say he’s done. So he sits there drawing circles over and over, until they tell him to switch colors, and then he grabs another pencil (if he can find one, which often he can’t, because he can’t see the pencils, and probably not the drawings either) and draws the same circles in the same spot over and over, until they tell him to draw them somewhere else on the paper, so he draws the same circles in the same spots over and over. (And I get the sense that maybe this circle thing is a protest against being made to draw at all.) And then eventually in a time that’s determined entirely by his staff, they let him sculpt, and then he’s happy. The rest of us, we can say when we’re done with something and they let us stop. The rest of us can choose what kind of activity we want to do and we aren’t required to do something else first. But this one guy has to sit there drawing circles and getting clearly bored with it, over and over, until someone decides he can sculpt which is usually what he wants to do in the first place. And just… WTF, it makes no sense, and it’s wrong. Art is something you do because you want to do it, it’s not something that someone makes you do when you don’t want to do it, and it’s not something where other people ought to choose what form of art you want to do. And choices like that ought to be a human right, not subject to someone else’s power games. It’s things like this that spoil art for people who would otherwise enjoy it. And they bring the scent and the feel of ‘institution’ into places that are blessedly noninstitutional in other respects, because of who has and doesn’t have the control and power.

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Physically and cognitively disabled. Anything you hear in the media or gossip is likely to be oversimplified at best and wildly inaccurate at worst, the only way to get to know me is to actually know me. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died a couple years ago and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

18 responses »

  1. This makes my heart hurt. It infuriates me. People in support positions are there to support what the person they are supporting wants to do. You know this. I really hope someone will be able to speak up on his behalf.

  2. How? and why? does anyone justify this? I guess they don’t have to is the answer. Makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and as you say is all about power.

    And fancy making a blind person use different colours. That’s just weird. Textures you could kind of understand, though it would still be wrong if he didn’t want to. But colour???

  3. Is there a director for this resource center? If there is, I’d suggest printing this out and mailing it (anonymously, if you fear having the staff hassle you for doing it; you can even change “paint” to “do art” so you’re less identifiable). Maybe the staff members responsible for doing this to the blind fellow would get a talking-to and cease their behavior.

  4. there is no reason for that kind of facilitation, it should be led by the participants that is, unfortunately there are a lot of type A personality facilitators who probably require someone to patiently explain to them something that appears to be common decency to the rest of the world. I just love educating.

  5. In situations like the one you’re describing, after I’m over the initial shock, I go into another level of shock over the fact that no one else in the situation with any power is actually defending the person’s rights. I mean, this is such an easy call that I could have made it as a traumatized four year old. Hope someone there defends the guy, and soon.

  6. WTF is the point of him doing it if he can’t see what he is drawing? It isn’t like sculpture when he can “see” what he is making and find the joy of it. This sounds a lot like power lording.

  7. I agree. Though it is not necessarily inapprpriate for a blind person to draw, it is inappropriate for staff to make someone do something he doesn’t want to do.

  8. I don’t think it’s inappropriate for a blind person to draw at all, but I do think that given he has no preference for it in the first place, combined with staff’s emphasis on visual aspects of it that he can’t perceive, being blind makes the things they insist on seem even more pointless to him. (You’d have to be there for the back-and-forth over color, among other things.)

    As for him having to really like sculpting to go there, I’m not sure whether he has any choice or whether it’s just another enforced activity for him. (My hands are too full of paint to have conversations with people while I’m there, and I’m awful at starting conversations anyway.)

  9. This makes me sad and angry on his behalf. It’s (to me) control disguised as benevolence, as ‘we know what’s best for you’. Bleah.

  10. That’s depressing.

    Sometimes, when someone who’s blind has a very small amount of vision, they’re encouraged to do activities that help them make use of the vision they do have, and learn to maximize their ability to understand and interpret what they do see. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to picture medical professionals declaring that drawing was therapeutic, and enforcing it on that guy without looking at what they’re really doing to him. The “I know best, and you have to keep trying at what I tell you to do because eventually I will make you better!” not-listening attitude is depressingly common.

    The circles do sound like a protest. I had one mandatory “Draw because it’s considered therapeutic!” assignment (involving a therapist), and I did a bunch of triangles and colored them in. Drawing generic shapes can be a good way of sending a “I’m only doing this because you’re making me” message.

  11. It sounds to me like the person who is with him is trying to justify their own purpose in being there. They might feel “useless” if they aren’t dictating because they don’t have a clue that this can be done another way that is actually preferable. I wonder too if anyone else is talking to this young man at all to establish him as seperate from her?

    What would happen if someone introduced another concept here by going up to him first thing and saying something like “Erick. What are you choosing to do today at art?” “My name is —— and I am choosing to paint.”

    It establishes him as separate from her. It recognizes his free choice and gives it merit.
    It also invites him to speak. It also models free choice.

    It might be enough to at least get her thinking in another direction and offers subtle support to him. It might be a first step. If it works and she is able to let go and he is able to speak up it might be something to do each time until it becomes habit for them.

    I also think the idea of copying the blog or the concepts written about in the blog and giving it anonymously to the director or at least giving it to her in private would be a possibility like Robin mentioned. I would try gentle example first.

  12. That is awful and makes my heart hurt too. I am a person with a disability, but I am sooo lucky that I hide it well (thanks to have acquired it late in life and having a very supportive husband). I work with “these” agencies and try to help them see that their job is to EMPOWER, and it is not “just a job”.

  13. Maybe the staff are taking orders from the Green Nun.

    In William Burroughs’ “The Wild Boys,” there was a scene with an institution where a nun made all her patients work with crayons and paint despite their adult age. They drew religious pictures for her, and if they tried to draw something on their own she would punish them by forcing them to write insulting messages about themselves on her blackboard.

    This has Goodie Greeny’s mentality all over it. I’d write about Kafka, a much more inviting and coherent author, but he is overused and Burroughs did a better job of satirizing doctors. He’d been in the kind of places you were sent to. It’s not even appropriate here to say what he had happen to his nun at the end.

    BTW I don’t hate Catholics, just self-righteousness.

  14. Well he had a sub this week, and the guy actually asked him what he wanted and stuff. And lo and behold, he quit drawing circles and started drawing other stuff and painting and sculpting and stuff. They still told him he ought to do it in a particular order, but it was respectful enough he didn’t seem to mind. I even saw him smiling and laughing for the first time in ages. It seems to be a single control-freak staff who is pulling this crap, as evidenced also by the sub being told that this staff person insists he has to do things in a particular order. But he was way way way happier this week than any other week I’ve seen him.

  15. It’s sick that people are told what to do in this way. Why should they tell him what order to do these things in? Fuck them.

    On the other hand:

    Who pays for the stuff? When somebody else pays for the stuff and the space, they have the right to tell the people who use it what to do. They should say that up front though, and not give the impression that they are giving people choices, because that is untrue.

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