The Politics of Disability Aesthetics in Visual Culture

Fall 2016

Image from The Politics of Disability Aesthetics in Visual Culture
Course Details

Inscribed surface, political object, sign, flesh, boundary, matter, cultural product, artistic work—these are some of the many ways that the disabled body has been theorized and imagined in a wide cross-section of critical scholarship and cultural production. This interdisciplinary course seeks to provide a broad overview of the presence of disability and its various manifestations throughout modern day visual culture, with a special emphasis on how disabled artists have offered a revision to the existing negative constructs typically associated with the disabled form. Conventional art history has not typically accounted for intellectually and physically disabled subjects and their accompanying atypical bodies through the art museum and their curated exhibitions, through commercial art galleries and biennials, or the entire exhibition complex structure. A small number of patronizing and demeaning representations have appeared in art genre presentations such as ‘outsider art’ but these derogatory constructs have generally failed to be challenged by art historians, critics, curators and artists. It is important to build a new vocabulary and methodology around disability and access in challenging and stimulating ways, and this class will attempt to find the language to build this framework around how disability might fit into the discourse of visual culture. We will engage primarily with work that interrogates the social, political, and philosophical stakes of complex embodiment, on occasion drawn from other fields that have a history of interrogating embodiment in visual culture, such as within the discourses of race, gender, class, colonialism, and sexualities. We will also examine how we might trouble the ostensible normative narratives in museum and gallery spaces, and consider how access might become a dynamic conceptual tool for destabilizing reductive categories. The overarching goal is to engage in dialogue that centers on the creative potential of disabled bodies to generate social transformation within visual culture at large.