Although we can’t really generalize what makes a talented artist, many assume good health and a strong mind are both prerequisites. But the Ripley Center’s new exhibit, Sustaining/Creating: A National Juried Exhibition for Emerging Artists with Disabilities, Ages 16-25, which opened on Sept. 11 and runs until Jan. 2013, works to test this hypothesis. A single corridor on the third floor of the gallery features the works of 15 artists with disabilities. The collection, as the title notes, explores the theme of sustainability. Each artist shares his or her own viewpoint on the issue, in turn prompting the viewer to reflect on societal customs and social responsibility.
The series, which is presented by Volkswagen Group of America, explicitly states the purpose of this unique exhibit: “The partnership supports young artists at a critical time when many are deciding whether to pursue the arts as a career. The award validates and supports that life-defining choice.” The artists receive a monetary award for each piece of artwork which is then presented in the exhibit. This reward is deemed a “validation” of the artist’s work, which is in turn intended to inspire a life-long dedication to art.
From diastrophic dysplasia to colorblindness, each artist clearly expresses his or her struggle in the artwork. Two of the standouts were from Colin Budd and Sam Sadtler, who suffer from ADHD and dyslexia, respectively.
Budd, who hails from Pennsylvania, is a digital artist who currently attends Cornell University. He received $2,000 for a digital print that illustrates society’s disturbing dependence on technology. The entire print consists of just three colors that reflect a break from the natural world: gray, red, and blue. The print’s prominent use of gray in particular suggests a bleak future unless a change occurs, hinting at the instability of our technology-dependant society. Budd’s case of ADHD is surprising, for the print is the most intricately designed work in the exhibit, challenging viewers to reconsider not only their assumptions about sustainability but also those about disabilities.
Sadtler, a Massachusetts native, presents a view of sustainability just as foreboding as Budd’s. He photographs the interiors of mundane objects, from appliances to computer chips, to reflect the ritual of replacing the old with the new. Though Sadtler’s critique of society’s relationship with technology stands out for his unique perspective, his inspiration is what separates him from the rest.
As someone afflicted with severe dyslexia, Sadtler shares with the audience that he often felt “discarded.” He compares himself to an old can opener, the object in his photograph, that way he was taken away and grouped together with other outdated items. With this method, Sadtler links sustainability to morality in an innovative and touching way.
Sustaining/Creating is a collection that stands out not only for providing a new perspective on what sustainability means to Millennials, but also for offering a personal look into living with a disability. While the exhibit may not be stylistically groundbreaking, it highlights a group of young artists who are breaking barriers and shaping the future of the visual arts.