The title for this blog post is a quote which comes from an article published by Shape Arts called How to Get an Exhibition. It’s an article “adapted to suit disabled artists and sit alongside Shape’s own resources…”
I’ll quote a fuller excerpt,
“The art world is Social and I’m capitalising that because frankly you’re not getting anywhere making art in isolation. No-one is going to come knocking if no-one knows who you are. You have got to introduce yourself (and that won’t be welcome if you’re not a decent person), which brings me to…”
This is prefaced with advice about working cooperatively. Don’t be adversarial or a ‘user’, my term. It’s a wholesome tip, what can be so wrong? Well, consider the socially disabled. Yes – we do exist – though clearly we’re invisible to even wonderful disability arts organisations which are much beloved, like Shape.
So saddened and frustrated am I to see such output from a disability arts organisation that I’m moved to blog about it.
Autistic artists are unlikely to be ‘users’ or even adversarial – though our social behaviour might make us seem so because we are so easily misread. We are more likely to be trampled on by others using our ideas and making capital out of our social vulnerabilities than vice-versa.
The art world is Social – with a capital S – is a statement which tells you everything you need to know about about an environment which is excluding, at times toxic and frankly (to borrow the author’s tone) disabling for autistic artists.
There will of course be autistic artists out there making their work in isolation – that’s the point! It’s not necessarily a choice for us – though it is complicated.
It may be that some of us are without a network because this is what happens when you have a social disability. Another factor is that ‘isolation’ can be enabling on a creative level. Some of us don’t find collaborative working accessible and need ‘isolation’ of a certain kind to make our work. This can be usefully reframed as solitude – though our need for it can be unusual and profound.
It’s inappropriate to advise against isolation to a group who can’t help it – for whom it can be both a feature of creative life and/or a consequence of their disablement.
And not even the no-one will come knocking is the worst of this grisley finger wagging advice. Yes, we know. We’ve known this forever, thank you!
You have got to introduce yourself – gets right to the nub of things though. I’ve heard this before somewhere. The ‘get stuck in’ school of advice, which is about as useful as a kick in the teeth for those who live with levels of social anxiety often associated with social disability.
However, the worst is reserved for last.
I suspect there will be something truly sinister, about the quote marks around ‘decent person’ and the admonition about a lack of welcome, for the autistic reader. You have to unpack what this means and the assumptions buried within such a statement. ‘Decent person’ is here (I assume) someone who can perform neurological typicality (for want of a better phrase). A person who can show collaborative spirit and can demonstrate they are a team player. It means someone who can pass a neurotypical popularity test, which is essentially what most networking is about.
What if neurological challenge means you can’t remember names or faces, and can’t keep up with the alphas of this Social world. What if you can’t process interactions in the moment. The alphas shuffle according to criteria those with social disabilities often can’t fathom because they are whimsical and illogical, based on something we can’t see or touch. It is also the case that we often see too much. Where’s the advice about social ‘lying’?
Some of us can’t prove we’re ‘decent’ because the Social world disables us. So although it wasn’t intended that way, this is ableist and a worrying sign that autistic artists are still not visible in disability arts.
7 thoughts on “The art world is Social”
I can relate to this. I went to a big event for illustrators recently and most of the socializing was in a big room with so many people talking that I felt sick just being there. I had to keep going to hide behind a stairwell to cope with it. And I can’t really understand what people are saying in those circumstances, so I barely talked to anyone. I went along with the intention of meeting people and left feeling like a hopeless failure.
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So sorry! This sounds familiar xx
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A beautiful and powerful critique. This is so well articulated — made me cry with relief and recognition. THANK YOU Sonia. You absolutely nailed it.
“It’s inappropriate to advise against isolation to a group who can’t help it – for whom it can be both a feature of creative life and/or a consequence of their disablement.”
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Reblogged this on autistatwork and commented:
An important critique by Sonia Boué — systemic ableism in the arts.
I have reblogged this! x
Thank you for this powerful post. Reading the content of your post just feels like a punch in my stomach. I totally can relate to it.
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Thank you for communicating this important message! Having studied adult education techniques, I know there are various formats that can be offered that may help people (like you, like me) who find those mob scenes unmanageable. For example, Breaking into 2s or 3s, to share in turn, some stated items of simple self-disclosure. Then move onto another small group. When sensitively managed, this works for me. Maybe for others too. People who have had enough can also be free just to break to another room instead–for refreshments and wait for another similar structured interaction–or even just to leave if preferred. Maybe you know some small group sharing methods of your own. Let us join together to resist the tyranny of loudness, etc.
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