A couple days ago, I asked you what you all thought about a piece of art I saw in the National Gallery called, A Blind Man in the Garden. I enjoyed reading the comments and thinking through the reactions. I was going to leave a comment, adding into the discussion, but decided instead to write something a little more extensive. I'd like to lay bare my experience of looking at that picture in the gallery, feeling a little uncomfortable and a lot vulnerable about disclosing my inner dialogue. Even so, here goes ...
I didn't much notice the picture, in amongst so many others, and was rolling by it when the title kind of leapt out at me. I admit, freely, that the title pulled me in and made me look more closely at the picture. I ended up looking at it for a very long time. Questions, like the ones I asked you, bounced around in my head. But, I was having trouble having a reaction to the picture and to its title. I kept thinking, even though I tried not to, how others would respond to what they were seeing. I kept wondering how non-disabled museum goers would react. Would they see it as 'inspiring' or 'hopeful' or worse, would the have a sense of pity for the man who grew flowers that he could not see? Somehow I kept really, really, really caring about how others would react to what I was seeing.
I never, once, during that inner tussle stopped to think about how I responded to the picture, I didn't worry about how other disabled people's reaction. I don't know why I valued and worried about the opinion of non-disabled people.
I know that when we were young and very involved with the gay movement there was much worry about how straight people would perceive things. This was long before pride took hold and we all decided that, en masse, we didn't really give a shit. We WORRIED about, and many were actively prejudiced against, effeminate gay men or butch lesbian women. We WORRIED about people who played into the stereotype, we worried so much that we didn't notice the bigotry that was behind the worry. But we worried.
But here I was, sitting in a gallery, thinking about non-disabled people reacting to an image of a disabled man standing in a garden. Somehow, I don't think he worried about it at all. And, I, knowing that I'd have to think about my experience in the gallery, pushed all that aside and tried to think about what I thought of what I was seeing. I tried to react as simply Dave. And it was hard. But I found that the picture spoke to me BECAUSE of the title. The title made an impact on me and made the image important to me. I began to think about the garden and the man standing in it. I began to think about how he needed no reason to do what he does simply because people don't need to explain why they do what they love, they do what they love because they love doing it. It didn't have to be about the senses. It didn't have to be about the garden at all. It simply could be how he chose to express himself in the world. It had meaning to me because it had meaning to him.
People with disabilities live with meaning.
People with disabilities live with passion.
People with disabilities need explain neither.
This is why I go to galleries This is what art does. It makes me think. It makes me feel. It makes me push aside the noise in my head to find something that can be elusive - me.