Young and Disabled in Harlem: Making Art Like It Matters



Ellen Dissanayake highlights a theory that making art is a biological response to a need to “write ourselves” onto the surface of the world, and to find there the material manifestations of both yearning and completeness. Those symbols act as a feedback loop between internal and external realities. Bill Richards turned this theory (30 years before Dissanayake’s writing) into praxis after an event as a graduate student at Indiana University, long before working with adolescents with physical disabilities. In a drawing course he taught for nonart majors, he was perplexed by an unresponsive female student who had never made art before and was not interested in trying. Richards did what he could to stimulate her interest, but without success. On a cold morning (the class started at 8:00 A.M.), Richards asked if anyone might like to travel to a farm outside Bloomington. The only hand that went up was the recalcitrant girl’s. Perhaps her interest was piqued because she lived on a farm. The students piled into cars and spent the chilly day drawing outside. Returning to the classroom, the students displayed their drawings for critique. Among the drawings of landscapes, fences, and trees was a magnificent drawing of a cow. “Who did this?” Richards wondered out loud. The girl’s hand went up. This incident changed his life, as it appeared to change hers. She began to care for her appearance, which had been disheveled, and participate in the coursework.


Cerebral Palsy Young Black Male Professional Artist Bang Bang Young Artist 
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© Alice Wexler 2012

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