Ableist art models don’t help us Autistic artists

Margaux Wosk - activism through art

When you see an Autistic Artist trying to support themselves and their passion – as with any Artist, Autistic or Neurotypical, please, strike up a conversation, ask questions, consider all the reasons and information put forward to you.

By Margaux Wosk

The opportunities for artists seem to be few and far between. If you’re a social person and able to network with others, chances are you’ll have a better chance of connecting with the right people to find a venue for your work.

There have been times that I had opportunities to gain exposure, but because of my inept social skills and lack of being able to draw a crowd, it didn’t benefit me too much. I didn’t gain any opportunities. A good example was a live painting competition where you needed to garner votes to win. I don’t think me and my painting partner only got a single vote which was from a family member of mine.

The ways artists get opportunities have vastly diversified and I can’t always say that it’s for the best. There’s the commission model, the pay to play model and a new one I absolutely hate which seems to be just like multi-level marketing – another name for a legal pyramid scheme. It works like this: the artist is responsible for a number of ticket sales being made for the art show in order to secure a spot. This model makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable – because of my lack of social skills and virtually non-existent network of local friends means that this opportunity is not only terribly inaccessible, it’s ridiculously ablelist at it’s core.

Rejection is another harsh reality that induces repetitive disappointment. You have to have an incredibly thick skin to be able to deal with it. For instance, I live in Vancouver BC. I have probably reached out to at least 30+ gift shops, galleries, coffee shops and restaurants and the only opportunities I have gained is that i’ll be showing my art at a restaurant in 2020 and I may have the opportunity to sell some of my art at a gift shop located nearly 5 hours away in a small town.

The aesthetic that has become a commonality is something I don’t have the most pleasant term for (so, i’m going to leave it out), but it includes: stemless wine glasses with terms like “it’s wine o’ clock”, rustic looking wood signs with script fonts and quotes like “Bless this mess”, sweaters that are adorned with hair colour types “blonde” and “brunette” to name a few. The store’s decor is generally white walls with gold accents and some wood prints thrown in there.

I think there’s at least 5 or so stores within a half hour radius of where I live.

When I approached them with my colourful, vibrant, retro inspired art — of course, I was rejected because it throws off that whole aesthetic.

I’m not saying I haven’t had opportunities: just last year an amazing marijuana activist named Randy Caine and his business sponsored me to have a booth at Langley Arts’ Alive and I was able to not only showcase my art and sell a small portion of it, but I was also able to open up the conversation of what it is to be an Autistic Artist–I even went viral on imgur with over 95,000 views https://imgur.com/gallery/qunQmGb. From there, I ended up on the upper left hand corner of 2 local newspapers with a feature article inside and that lead to me having an engagement with the local school district to run an art workshop with autistic students.

Margaux Wosk Cloverdale Reporter
Cloverdale Reporter article activism through art

The opportunities I’m gaining are unconventional; but they are opportunities I value and cherish – and I’m always happy to have more things to add to my resume.

I also wanted to add that, if you’re familiar with Autism “Awareness” Month (I prefer acceptance), then you might know that a lot of brands and companies make this month all about raising money that either goes to local organizations or, *cough* Autism Speaks – ew.

Which brings me to this. An Alberta based Mortgage Company decided to have a colouring contest for April. This is apparently something they do annually. The page is adorned with puzzle pieces and encouraging words. Anyone is able to enter and utilize numerous hashtags to then put on social media to help get the word out. I found out that one year, they barely spent anything on advertising because the campaign essentially did that for them with little to no overhead.

What rubbed me the wrong way, as an Autistic Artist, was not only that this company decided to vinyl wrap an entire car with it, through a car dealership that was involved in the promotion, but that the artist herself ISN’T EVEN AUTISTIC. She is a best-selling colouring book artist. She then continued to promote her colouring page and the contest. Her smile was from ear to ear and it got me thinking, ‘well, of course you’re happy. You’re not even an Autistic person and you’re utilizing a disability you don’t even have with uncomfortable, ableist imagery, getting paid and getting exposure for it’ and the worst thing of all is that she effectively took away an opportunity from an Autistic Artist. An Autistic Artist who could have used images that are not only appropriate, but empowering.

Don’t get me wrong: I am very thankful when it comes to Neurotypical people listening to the needs of Autistic folk and working NEXT to us, beside us and collaborating with us on something amazing and beneficial. What I’m not okay with is non-Autistic types, attempting to represent us without any input or consultation.

When you see an Autistic Artist trying to support themselves and their passion – as with any Artist, Autistic or Neurotypical, please, strike up a conversation, ask questions, consider all the reasons and information put forward to you. Give opportunities and find a way to diversify the way you see self expression because without Art, the world is a boring place.

Bringing a piece someone’s soul has created in to your life is one of the greatest gifts you are not only giving yourself, but you’re giving the artist a new opportunity to inspire.

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