No matter the obstacles, artists can always create


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of the editors or editors of Rolling Stone.

I have drawn most of my life. When I was three, I started drawing recognizable things like rabbits and Winnie-the-Pooh. I remember the incredible feeling I felt when expressing important things in my life. There was such joy to be shared; it was a form of communication that I couldn’t put into words at the time. Art was like home and it was like love.

Art also helped me to find a passage throughout life. I followed the scholarly path and obtained an MFA in painting. I learned art history and constructive criticism and how to always strive to evolve my work according to past and present artistic movements. At first I had many different professional artistic jobs such as art teacher and performer. However, with the arrival of family and the need for a 9 to 5 day, I eventually found myself starting a permanent position as an art teacher in a progressive art studio. That was over 25 years ago and I have never looked back.

A progressive art studio is a term used for community day programs that focus on the development of visual and performing arts and professional learning for adult artists with developmental disabilities. These artists have an undeniable passion for the arts. Many are self-taught or have limited formal education in their artistic fields. Coming from a graduate arts background, I started teaching artists with disabilities. I soon discovered that students of all levels were able to take pieces of my education and develop them.

My students have expressed their admiration and joy by experimenting with various mediums and techniques. I loved watching the visual artists’ vibrant responses as they shared their pieces with friends and strangers and performing arts students as they sang for the first time in front of an audience or held a familiar instrument like a friend. All of these experiences triggered memories of my own joy in watching the magic happen as the paint stained the canvas and the feelings and thoughts turned into lines.

Within the program, I saw sophisticated, sometimes raw and authentic works created every day. While these people had additional physical, cultural and learning challenges at times, I have observed time and again how present and invested they are to connect and express themselves through their work.

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One of my students left an indelible impression on me when I heard about the heartbreaking event that left him with a traumatic brain injury at the age of four. I got to know this student later in his life, and this artist’s mother told me that although he had problems with traditional ways of learning, by the age of seven he had learned the basics of music. During his first recital at the age of 17, he performed from memory the second movement of Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1. As soon as he entered the program, he auditioned and became a member of the program’s rock group. He had fulfilled a dream and found his connection. I watch him now as he stays super focused during rehearsals and becomes fully energized when performing live.

I have been fortunate to see this level of commitment and dedication with many artists that I have worked with over the years and it never fails to inspire. As creatives in this high demand production world, I think it really speaks to always keeping in mind the passion and love you have for your craft.

Another student opened my mind to let the work lead you, just like I did when I was younger. This happened when I asked him what he thought of a beautiful painting he had created titled “Playfulness”. He replied that enjoying life was the raison d’être of the game. He told me that when he starts a painting he does not title it, instead preferring to keep it open, look at it and explore what he is. felt about the coin before tilting it. What particularly impressed me is that pure emotion guided his choices.

Embracing the playfulness can have a profound influence on ourselves and our work. Time and time again, I have discovered that gambling has brought me to see myself and my work from a new perspective; it allowed me to hold my attention longer with boring activities, making them more interesting. Every now and then it has helped me reconsider the circumstances to make them more entertaining or less stressful.

By knowing remarkable artists like these, I am now a strong advocate and lover of all arts and music from all levels of creators, no matter where you are in the neuro-spectrum. It is a gift to see the passion and value of every precious artistic communication.

For all of us, leaders and creatives, exploring and supporting artists with disabilities is a chance to experience and celebrate a different culture. This is an opportunity to strengthen our entire community by including everyone. Start in your local community and look for progressive art studios or studios that showcase the work of artists with disabilities. Consider volunteering your time to help with local programming or meet and talk to artists. Research the hundreds of inspiring disabled artists currently working, and go out and support these artists – maybe buy their work. Make them known to others as well.

In the end, I made a lot more from teaching artists with disabilities than any MFA could teach me. I rediscovered the love of making art and learned that no matter what obstacles you always create.

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