FSEM 100Q2 | The Beauty that Differences Give Us: Art, Art History, and Disability Studies

In this course we will explore ideas about disability and how those ideas relates to artists’ lives and their artmaking as well as to notions about problematic terms such as “normal”, “disabled”, and “disability”. We will look at artists and artworks not only from our own time and culture, but also from other times (and sometimes cultures) in order to do three things: to understand the ways in which we are all different and differently abled—that is, to look at natural human variation; the ways in which art can help us to see and understand those ideas; and the ways in which those ideas can change how we move in, interact with, and structure our lives and worlds. Usually, we will focus in on a handful of artists. In recent years, we have studied Frida Kahlo and Vincent van Gogh but we may look at other artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Francisco Goya, or Yinka Shonibare. There are lots of possibilities!


Photo of Julia DeLancey, Professor of Art and Art History

Julia DeLancey, Professor of Art and Art History

I’ve been “doing” art history in one way or another since I was in high school and have still not found anything else I’d rather be doing, so I feel very fortunate. For teaching, I cover everything from cave paintings up to today, although my research is on early modern Italy (what many people know as “Renaissance Italy”). I first got interested in Disability Studies on a walk with a friend. She works on ancient Greece and was talking about the fact that ancient Greeks had different categories for what counted as a disability. I said to her, “But surely we can all agree that blindness is a disability?” and she simply said, “Why?” That one question has fueled my interest for years now, and I am interested in particular in diverse mental conditions. Daily, I am moved by the openness of people younger than I am (most of you, I assume) to human difference and intrigued by all the ways that anything visual can show us about the great range inherent in humans. We’ll look at those things together in this class.