Art as totally unique expressions and statement
As an art teacher I have learned to look at the basic gestures, lines or images made by a student whether they be a child or adult and view them as having the possibility and potentiality of being a totally unique expressions not unlike fingerprints. That is even the most basic scratch, line or object made over a period of time on paper or canvas or other mediums begins to exhibit the particular signature of a person’s body and mind set.
Sadly this sort creative uniqueness can be difficult in the beginning to spot in some adults or older children who have been repeatedly exposed to the misconception that art is only about copying objective reality. “Now Jimmy, you know that is not what a tree looks like!” Or more appropriately: “Jimmy! That is a beautiful drawing of a tree it looks so real!
What i have found in my teaching is that the special needs person seemingly (more often than not) is already naturally set up to transform the traditional or mundane into new and original concepts. Even the very first marks put on the canvas or paper are already vastly different than their counterparts in so called art schools and colleges.
Radically Shifts in Art
At the beginning of the twentieth century things radically shifted from the strict, objective world of Victorian mass conformity to the new and frightening universe hidden within the polarities of the self. The absolute failures and epic tragedies of World War I gave way quickly to the radical ideals of Einstein and Freud and a new direction pointing towards the unknown regions of the inward. Suddenly the well known baselines of god and nation were collapsing under the weight of a greater chaos of an unknown universe of self.
Those first radical artists of the Modern Age saw clearly that the time was ripe for a full pledge assault on the public perception of there only being an objective, static reality. The traditional landscapes and portraits of Romantic peaceful ideals were attacked and taken apart by such new and radical concepts as Cubism, Dada.
The newly born art of the inward
It was the genius of Picasso who saw early on in his art career that he had to switch his traditional orientations from a highly representational outward expression to a newly born abstraction of the inward more personalized world of the subjective. And it’s no secret that Picasso and and other that help found Modern Art era took a great deal of their inspiration from the artwork and mind sets of institutionalized patient with supposed mental and physical disorders.
The special needs” artist with less per-conceived ideas about art.
My work with “special needs” or the gifted people as I call them has shown this population to have less inhibitions and preconceived ideas of not only how the world should be but how the art from it should look. The mental and physical origination of this special population of people typically goes inward, quickly and easily. And in some cases with a complete disregards to the public or mainstream expectations and perceptions.
This sort of innocence or unpretentious being is due to several factors the least of which is the outright affect of the said disorder or physical limitation on the person who has it and how that special aspect of their being works in contrast to the mainstream thought process.
The special needs person (often with little choice of their own) tends to isolate and create unknown spaces for defense and refuge. For me it is this sort of private space or unknown world of refuge that harbors new hopes of unconventional means of artistic expression for the self and the greater collective that surrounds it.
Forget about the rules
In a world where conformity to societal norms is more powerful than ever before there is a deep need and value in finding a person(s) that lacks some (if not all) of the inhibitions of public conformity and expectations. A person(s) that have the creative ability to break through into new and exciting ways of thinking and seeing the world.
Andres Cisneros, Studio Manager at NIAD says: “The (special needs) artists here finds solutions that you will never think about. Traditional artists are taught rules – you just have to forget about that here.”
“They (special needs artist) have no inhibition,” says Gallery Director, Brian Stechschulte. “They’re not restrained by those psychological concerns…that’s what makes their work so interesting. It’s raw, it’s immediate, and it’s unrestrained.”
Founders Florence Ludins-Katz and Elias Katz,
In the early 1970’s in California artist Florence Ludins-Katz and her husband psychologist Elias Katz, created a socially interactive- and expression-focused treatment plan for adults with disabilities. It was a very unique set up that eventually brought the special needs person to the forefront of the art world. Now some 30 years later the basics of their teaching programs are used worldwide in many successful foundations that teach and exhibit the special needs artist. Many of the artists trained under these programs such as Judith Scott have now taken their place as important foundational members of the art world and more so the Outsider art style.
What was central in the Katz’s treatment plan and teaching method was that the creative uniqueness of special needs person was paramount and central to the new and evolving art form of the artist with “disabilities”. Conventional teaching methods of other standard schools of the day simply did not and could not apply to the radical outsider or other worldly orientations of the special needs artist, chiefly the artist who was non-verbal. There were some powerful restrictions in the Katzs methods, one of those being that the teacher could not touch or influence the purity of the the artist’s expression. This sort of restriction certainty gave rise to a brand new type of creative relationship between the student and teacher, suddenly the student was as much a teacher as the teacher was.
Outside artist Judith Scott
Judith Scott was born a twin in the early 1940’s and almost from birth it was apparent that she had powerful mental and physical disabilities that rendered her unable to communicate in ways that she could be fully understood. Her loving family sought to make Judith’s life as normal as possible.
Sadly as she grew her special needs grew as well rendering her almost unteachable in the normal educational environments of the day.Thus began her life in various institutions and schools and the difficult separation from her beloved twin sister And so began her life in various institutions and schools and the difficult separation from her beloved twin sister. In her 30’s her sister Joyce Scott was finally able to become her twins guardian. Shortly afterward Judith became a client and student at the now famous Creative Growth Art Center in California. Creative Growth was a place and ideal largely founded on the teaching methods and ideas of Florence and Elias Katz.
It was quickly realized at Creative Growth that Judith had unusual creative abilities that first started as specialized scribbled loops and circles on paper to evolving big encasements of cloth and string. Her large textile abstractions electrified her teachers and outside audiences with ever evolving creative statements that reassembled big cocoons or body parts. With time it was found that Judith’s art was seemingly involved in creating or building some sort of metamorphosis of a second self or twin. The theme of twins became a central motif in trying to understand the complexities of Judiths’s work. Eventually her art became world famous becoming parts of priceless collections all over the world, and giving rise to her being a foundational member of the Outsider art style.
Unusual Means of Obtaining What Is Needed
One day one of my special needs art students, without money or inflicting damage to the school’s candy machine, obtained and filled his entire gym bag with candy bars. I never fully figured out how he did it or how he did it in less than two minutes without making noise or being noticed in a room full of people. Strangely, this was repeated two other times in the very same way.
When someone is rendered psychically or mentally incapable of communicating and interacting with the majority that surround them then undoubtedly baseline problems arise for that person(s) that threaten the possibilities of having a normal and healthy life. My experience has shown that typically the adult special needs person has developed strategies, sometimes very unusual ones that can and do successfully get what they perceive as being needed (however healthy or unhealthy be the need). It is the unusual means of obtaining what is needed by the special needs person that I have found most interesting and in fact a crucial creative baseline (however bizarre or abnormal) in creating a new artistic idea and concept.
Being Ostracized on Some Level and Set Apart from the Mainstream
All one has to do is travel a bit and spend time in a different culture or altered mind set to understand clearly that universal terms like “normal” and “reality” are anything but universal and concrete. That when you enter a radically different culture or (in my thoughts here) the unspoken world of a special needs person, then all the preconceived rules and perceptions of what you deem as being normal or “right” can and will be completely changed and in some cases radically changed. Suddenly everything you deemed relevant and normal is gone and and the means of communication new and completely different.What Elias Katz in the 1970’s clearly understood as being the baseline of purity for the special needs artist; the extreme difference they had concerning physical and mental orientations. These differences of perception were critical factors in not only trying to understand the special needs artist but in allowing him or her a unique and healthy means of self expression not readily available in the mainstream world.
The public mainstream typically sets the standard in a society for the perceived baseline of what is to be considered acceptable as every day reality, however fractured or healthy that reality may be it is none the less the standard used for understanding and more so communicating with general collective of people in it. The way that a person dresses, the language they speak, the look and expression on their faces, and the ideal and the ethic become a vital part of the conscious identity of the over all members of the society. This conscious identity and its various set markers are means for the individual to gauge where they will fit in and how they will be excepted as a vital part of the mainstream.
Once such standards of identity or fitting in are put into action what does that mean for the person who doesn’t or can not adhere to such things as the dress, body types or more so the general means of speaking and thinking? For obviously reasons the odds are greatly increased for that person to be ostracized and set apart from the main stream society.
That we even try to group and generalize a large amount of people into one way of thinking or understanding is in of its self problematic for the outsider or special needs person.
Beautiful Potentiality in Special Needs Orientations
In my mind the vast differences of artistic expression in the special needs person has the potentiality of not only creating good art but in generating new and successful means of providing a vital and healthy community services to those in the mainstream. That is the art itself can help create a place and means to openly communicate differences (sometimes very radical ones) in such a way that everyone involved can feel good about the perceived difference and that they are worthwhile endeavors of expression.
Lastly in some case the special needs person has the potentiality of helping to update and help change the current dynamic of communications that exists in the over all nature of the world. Such radical difference in perception and thinking through special needs expression can be seen as evolving mind sets that can and will create new sorts of universal understanding. Potential in such art as Outsider creativity can be seen as having the properties of creating new and hopeful strategies that can be used one day to cross threshold of otherwise unapproachable differences between culture and nations.
The special needs artist is a beautiful soul, sometimes of a radical differences one both in mind and body sets.A blessed stranger so speak from a vastly different landscape and world. An undiscovered world that can offer new and vital doorways to a better future, a future that is not exclusionary but collectively connected to everyone with a new and beautiful dream of vital differences that can and will help save the world and its peoples.