Natalie Stitt - Honors College
This project can be restrained to the exploration of three questions: how has disability been presented in art and media? What are we losing if it is ‘othered’ and excluded? How can disability be ethically portrayed in art? As an artist and as a friend to several individuals within the disabled community, I noticed the misrepresentation, underrepresentation, and stereotypical representation of people with disabilities throughout art, its history, and its practice. The aim of this project was to highlight the humanity of disability and to discuss what will be lost if spaces, speciﬁcally artistic ones, continue to be closed off not only to ethical representation of those with disabilities but their actual presence.
As a creative thesis, the exploration of this topic is structured in two parts, a series of six portraits and a written component. With three large scale portraits and three smaller portraits, the painting component seeks to encapsulate the humanity and personality of the subjects painted. Each of those painted are friends that I have known throughout my time in college, and I wanted them to be heavily involved in the creative process. Thus, I interviewed each individual, picked the reference photo with them and their family, and painted the qualities, interests, and traits that they wished me to portray. The written component traces a brief history of disability’s representation, offers a synopsis of artists who have challenged the stereotypes surrounding disability, and presents a philosophical analysis of disability studies, its relationship with portraiture, and consequently how an artist should ethically portray disability in their work.
With the project, my goal is not to speak for the individuals that I am painting, nor is it to speak to the disabled experience. I recognize that as an able-bodied person, my art will never add what a disabled artist’s work will to that conversation. Rather, my goal with this project is both to create a space where people with disabilities can be viewed with respect, dignity, and love by able-bodied viewers and to challenge able-bodied stereotypes and standards that have been upheld in art and society.
To read Natalie's full thesis project, please click here.