Selling the artwork, not the label: exploring the experiences of artists with cognitive impairment towards professional recognition

Author: Jung Hyoung Yoon

Yoon, Jung Hyoung, 2019 Selling the artwork, not the label: exploring the experiences of artists with cognitive impairment towards professional recognition, Flinders University, College of Nursing and Health Sciences

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An aspiration of individuals with cognitive impairment who participate in art is to have their art practice viewed as a professional art career, not as ‘art therapy’, within community-based art organisations across the world. Art has been recognised as an excellent and effective medium for individuals with cognitive impairment, especially for those who need an alternative mode of communication, to express their thoughts and inner world. The functions of art are categorised into four groupings; ‘therapeutic art’, ‘recreational art’, ‘disability art’ and ‘outsider art’, depending on the pursuit of art practice of individuals with cognitive impairment. However, those individuals with cognitive impairment who have been seriously involved in art practice, have passion and desire to develop their art practice more professionally as an employment opportunity. They also do not wish to be recognised as artists with cognitive impairment but as professional artists, without the label ‘disability’, in mainstream art and in the public space.

This current study explored what challenges and enablers artists with cognitive impairment have experienced to develop their art career as a professional artist, using semi-structured interviews with caregivers and art facilitators, including art staff and mentors who have closely supported two artists with cognitive impairment. Due to significant limitations such as time, resources and funding, direct interviews with artists with cognitive impairment were not feasible. Therefore, this study undertook a ‘proxy’ intervention interview approach to explore the lives and experiences of the artists with cognitive impairment, through the perspectives of caregivers and art staff who have already established close relationships with the artists. This current research study was conducted in two art organisations in Australia and two art organisations in South Korea. The findings of the research are significant to draw an overview of the challenges and the enablers under four main thematic headings; ‘individual’, ‘systemic’, ‘societal’ and ‘professional’. The details of the findings indicate practical and functional elements, such as ‘effective mentorship programs’; ‘artist agreement’; ‘partnership or collaboration with commercial companies’; and ‘complexity of financial management between the government pension and extra income if any is earned’. This study also found some social and cultural differences in the responses between Australian participants and Korean participants. The most significant finding of the study is the importance of changing the public perspective of artists with cognitive impairment from ‘incapable’ to ‘capable’, as this can positively influence society and enhance opportunities for artists with cognitive impairment to pursue art professionally.

Keywords: cognitive impairment, artists, learning disability, ASD, autism, professional careers, artistic careers, employment, public perception, enablers, challenges, professional recognition

Subject: Disability Studies thesis

Thesis type: Graduate Diploma
Completed: 2019
School: College of Nursing and Health Sciences
Supervisor: Caroline Ellison