Wednesday, December 7, 2011


"The Vocation", copyright Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2008

Today I am really knackered. It has been a busy time with very bad sleep. However, I feel that I have really advanced on some important practical levels. I have talked to several nice people who are involved in the disability arts in Wales. It seems that nowadays, outsider art is defined as being art by anyone who is marginalized by society. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I fit the bill since I have some training and work professionally as an artist. The idea of outside art is namely to bring out "talent in the rough" amongst those who don't have much education and sophistication. However, I do have a disability so surely I fit into some kind of niche somewhere.

The main thing is that the messages I wish to bring out through my art have become much clearer in my mind, and I feel that I am gradually able to get them across to other people too. For a long time I felt quite scattered and lost in regards to my art, and what I could say that might get a wider audience interested in more than just the aesthetic value of my artistic products.

For most of my life, I struggled to keep up with other people and didn't particularly want to be seen as disabled. Instinctively, and even due to practical experience, you know that disability isn't received very well by most people. In some ways I am sure that pretending that I was doing better than I really was has been helpful, because it made me feel more worthwhile. There are images you can create in your mind that will be empowering. Some people have made it their mission to bring awareness to our ability to visualize in order to feel better about ourselves and our situation, but I never liked following other people's advice in this regard. I guess I'm a bit stubborn and I always figured I'd find my own way. I do beat myself up when I don't do too well though. Since I've been married I've seen myself fall into a whiny mode of martyrdom and victim hood far too many times. While I believe it is probably quite normal when you're not feeling well and your energies are low, but it doesn't make you feel any less guilt ridden. 

A few weeks ago we saw an exhibition with art by South Asian people, namely from India and Pakistan. When we left the venue, Martin said oh well, it's always the same story. "Whine, whine, poor me I am such an outsider in this society...". It's an easy way of making art, isn't it, he said. Complain through your art, there is bound to be somebody who gets a guilt trip or feels sorry for you. I thought to myself, that there is indeed a great danger in slipping into the victim mode and using it to your advantage. The problem is, you are not doing yourself the favour you may think you are. Of course, I am in this country of my own free will, so it's probably easier for me to have a positive attitude towards integration. But the truth is, I have many varied issues of feeling marginalized as I don't really know where I truly belong, how to adapt to my past (Finnishness) and my future (Britishness), nor how I can best work and contribute in my own way at my own pace in a new environment, as a person with a disability.

Don't get me wrong, I complain as well. Many people in Finland know that I have put myself out there, not least by complaining officially on the radio. I also have a blog in which I have recorded all the social injustice I have witnessed in my own life. But in the end there is a fine line between wallowing in self-pity, complaining about all that is bad, and just observing and stating a fact. I'm not entirely sure where the lines are, and I think often you have a little bit of everything in your cocktail. But I do know that I cannot state facts without a certain amount of emotional involvement. For instance, both Martin and I reacted to the colouring book for children about the terrorist attacks during 9/11 that an American publisher has recently published. We both thought, wow that would make a good artistic project. I was absolutely fuming at the very thought of offering such propaganda to innocent kids who will never understand what it's really about. The publisher obviously thinks they are educating the children about what really happened, but kids cannot comprehend it. It will only sow more seeds of hatred and "us against them". All that crap. 

Anyway, the point is that somehow you need to try and make art that doesn't put other people off. It's very easy to make others feel guilty or uncomfortable by being too confrontational and blaming everybody else for your rotten situation. I want to say things the way they really are - I think I'm well equipped for this as I'm Finnish... but I want people to actually want to engage in my work and not dismiss it because they are not obliged to have a second look. You cannot force others to feel sympathy. This is especially true today when a lot of people are having a difficult time and the future is uncertain in so many ways. What you want to create is an atmosphere of sharing, because, as someone just pointed out, most of us are going to be afflicted with ill health and misfortunes at some point in our lives. We need to pull together and also see that the marginalized people in society may very well have something valuable to contribute even when it doesn't seem like it. The point is, you just don't know. Yes many disabled people are not contributing much, but they might be able to do more if they weren't pushed to try and keep up with the norms. Others may be gems among the pebbles, with real wisdom and insight to share with others. Life is not only about economic growth, in fact that ideal should probably be abolished.

We do need to think about the audience as well though. We often forget, that there are "normal" people out there who just don't know what it's like to be marginalized. They have never met such people before. Their natural inclination is to feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and turn a blind eye. I have to admit to my own embarrassment that I sometimes feel similarly when faced with people who don't fit the norm. And I am supposed to be an open minded and unprejudiced person... well I don't think anyone is, to be honest. We must be gentle with these people. My interest in Buddhism many moons ago comes to mind, especially the ideal of compassion. We need to find the line where we get our message across but also have compassion for those who are ignorant about marginalization. Where exactly would they have learnt about such things? Many people believe what they read in their daily journal of preference, and it may be a very thwarted view of reality. Many newspapers only support what prejudices people already have. Yes, sometimes you have to yell really hard to be heard. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. I have been a fighter of my rights as a human being for a very long time and often felt very discouraged. Still - maybe it's especially through the arts that people can be shown a complex and troubled reality in a way that doesn't put them off. How can you get people to listen to you and make them feel positive and educated about what they hear at the same time? Keep going, don't give up. I'm sure every little helps.

No comments:

Post a Comment