UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Adults with intellectual disabilities and the visual arts : "It's not art therapy!" Lige, Sara


This thesis examines the emerging discourse concerning adults with intellectual disabilities and their agency as visual artists. People with intellectual or developmental disabilities are arguably the most marginalized members of our society and have historically suffered oppression. They have not experienced the same access to the arts as non-disabled people; artists with intellectual disabilities are typically situated within a therapeutic paradigm and excluded from institutional structures of contemporary art. This thesis raises issues of access and identity and problematizes the hegemonic structures and boundaries faced by artists with intellectual disabilities within the field of contemporary art. This interdisciplinary project evolves from a Disability Studies perspective and is heavily influenced by Emancipatory Methodology. A brief overview of Disability Theory is provided including a discussion concerning ‘cognitive ableism’. I propose a theoretical framework that supports artists with intellectual disabilities as legitimate artists. Issues of ‘Outsider Art’ and art therapy are addressed. A key component is a discussion of Cool Arts and the exhibition “We Are Artists”, which I curated. The exhibition worked to counter stereotypes and included an exhibition catalogue written in Plain Language. The qualitative research component to this thesis examines the art-making practices of three participants. Data collection methods included participant observation, semi-structured interviews and video-elicitation; documentation of the art-making process served to validate and recognize the participants as legitimate artists. I argue that artists with intellectual disabilities are legitimate artists and must have the same access to the arts as non-disabled people. This research makes a significant contribution to an emerging discourse which, to date, has had little scholarly literature devoted to it. This thesis counters misconceptions, and brings attention to issues of access and the lack of research in this interdisciplinary field.

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