Screen Test

The theme of Screen Test encompasses all of the elements that shape an art centre designed for people living with disabilities. These fundamentals need to be taken into account for any artist dealing with medical disabilities. Creative Spirit Art Centre strives to provide an optimum environment taking into consideration all three screens. Over the years, visits to other art centres and workshops has made me aware of the artists with disabilities. It is crucial to determine the kinds of support and facilitation that are required in an integrated art studio and exhibition setting, that only screen that is visible to the audience is the aesthetic screen. Functioning in a studio setting requires the evaluation of the three screens. 

Curator's Statement - Ellen Anderson 

"Screen Test" Definition of the tripartite screening process affecting artists with disabilities in Canada.

Quality of life is what we all strive for and that requires that we take all three screens into account.

The Aesthetic Screen is the most important for any artist. Freedom of expression is the banner under which art is created. Most often people with disabilities are given access to art therapy. The subject matter is sometimes dictated and analyzed for personality traits and deficits, or as an indicator of the therapeutic process at work. The choice of what to paint and how to paint is often the focus of community based arts classes and courses too. The freedom to express and explore is vital for the development of true artistic expression.

The Screen Test Project: The subject matter painted on each triptych commissioned for Screen Test is at the discretion of each artist. This exhibition is devoted to freedom of choice. The triptych format was selected as a metaphor for the three screens: aesthetic, medical, and socio-economic. All three parts of the screens provide a large single visual image but each section can stand on its own. In order for a work t exist as a triptych, the aesthetics must drive the work but the medical and socio/economic elements must remain invisible. Aesthetics and freedom of expression are imperative to any artist. In commissioning the artists, I did not ask for a specific theme onor did I restrict creation other than to request that all the artists use the same size canvases in a portrait orientation.  

The triptych is a challenging format. It was used frequently throughout the tradition of Western art to depict religious icons. As a three-panel screen it can be easily folded for storage and transportation. Using the triptych format as the screen allows the work to be freestanding, and the configuration allows the artist to play with the image. The hinges can fold either in or out.

The idea of technical support or assistants(s) in the art world is not new. Successful artists with large studios during the Renaissance and subsequent art periods (including the present) made use of assistants. Assistants can be highly trained artists or apprentices(s) who are required to stretch canvas, make paints, prepare palettes, paint backgrounds and any number of technical tasks. 

Art facilitators are often used by studios with artists with disabilities. Again these are academically trained artists who have an ability to interpret the individual needs of each artist and supply technical information as required. A facilitator is an artist who has completed a post-secondary visual arts education: a BFA or equivalent (many places in the U.S.A. require an MFA). Facilitators are often practicing artists with highly developed sensitivities for special needs population. the facilitators must be able to help the studio artist reach their own aesthetic values and are required not to impose on the development of the aesthetics of the individual. This requires a facilitator who can see and screen the direction of the studio artist.

Disclosure of the Medical Screen in the exhibition is left to the discretion of each artist featured in this exhibition; it is their choice to disclose or not to disclose the emotional, physical, or psychological conditions affecting their lives. The viewer is first asked to view the screens without medical background, and if they choose, to view the works again after reading the biographies. Does the information change your point of view, or your opinion of the art or artist?

In some cases knowing the medical condition can influence the perception of the viewer. Some viewers are taken aback when they discover that the artist is legally blind. They have to reconfigure their idea of what a visually impaired person is able to achieve. There has been much speculation about Van Gogh's medical condition. The idea that one must be mad or insane is an unfortunate belief often connected to Van Gogh. It is believed by some that El Greco's paintings show a medical condition attached to his vision. Medical definitions are usually required for entry into a studio space that provides for artists with special needs. Medical knowledge is required for the health and safety of the artists in the work environment. People with medical definitions are often excluded from "regular" art courses due to lack of physical access or because of evident mental or intellectual diagnosis.

The description of disability has changed in the past few decades. Today, people live with a multitude of medical conditions: cancer, diabetes, Aids, M.S., brian injuries, stroke, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and many other diagnoses.

Society no long accepts a medical diagnosis as a valid reason to retreat from the world. Hotels have support bars in washrooms and wheelchair access. Ocean liners have outfitted their luxury suites to provide the necessary aid for those who require physical adaptations. Airlines, conferences and restaurants take into account the fact that there are people who have food restrictions imposed by medical, religious or ethical concerns. The world has changed and so have the expectations of membership in the mainstream community, regardless of ongoing medical limitations.

The Socio-Economic Screen is significant because most artists with disabilities live with the assistance of a disability pension, from which they must pay for their rent, food and clothing. The amount is approximately $15,000 a year. It is supplemented with allowances for prescription and dental care, and access to subsidized public housing. The pension does not provide for the purchase of art supplies, which are costly. The artist's ability to write and distribute biographies, purchase frames, pay entry fees for juried exhibitions, and complete in  the mainstream arts venues is sometimes limited by lack of literacy, inability to write or retain information, and of course the money to pay for services.

Money is a factor in lack of access to computers and printers to accomplish the tasks. Lack of education is a factor. Often the knowledge required to respond to the tasks has never been taught to people who might have the intellectual ability to process information. Our society does not view being a visual artist as a viable career.

Art supplies, framing and promotion are expensive. Materials are usually provided by the organization delivering the art programs.

Fees for a program can vary from none to a cost per session. Unfortunately, in some cases a governing body dictates that the disabled person pay the suer fee of running an arts program.

As this time most arts programs are not funded with the exception of grants for social economic development projects. These are projects which attempt to set up a workshop to tach marketable arts and crafts skills and to market the products under the guise of being a business. Such projects are usually time limited for the participants, however there are exceptions.

The average wage of an artist in Canada was reported to be approximately $23,500 in the 2011 Canada Census report. The success rate of graduates for the Art College is 1%. the purpose of support services is to alleviate the challenges of medical and socio-economic conditions in order to allow each artist to contribute to the mainstream arts community, regardless of their specific disability.

This is an excerpt taken from "Screen Test", an exhibition catalogue for an exhibition of art by Creative Spirit Artists. Copyright C.S.A.C Creative Spirit Art Centre, September 2010. The catalogue is not longer available in print, but can be viewed online:

CSAC_ScreenTest_Exhibition_Catalogue_Creative_Spirit_Art_ Centre_Artists_2010.pdf


Ten Commandments for Communicating 

with People with Disabilities


  1. Speak directly to the person rather than the attendant/companion or sign language interpreter who is facilitating.

  2. Offer to shake hands when you are introduced. Offering your left hand is acceptable. People with limited use or artificial hands can still shake hands. In a multicultural society, handshakes might not be appropriate; a bow or other greeting should be used. Use your judgement.

  3. Identify yourself and others who are with you when you meet someone with a visual impairment. Identify the person you are speaking to when you are talking in a group.

  4. Do not attempt to help without asking, first. If you offer help or assistance, wait until the offer is accepted. Then listen for instructions. This is important with visually impaired or legally blind people. Do not grab them. Ask how you may help.

  5. Treat adults as adults. Do not call grown men and women with developmental disabilities – “boy(s)” or “girl(s)”. Call them by their names. Address or call people who have disabilities by their first names only when extending that same familiarity to the other people present. Never patronize people in wheelchairs or with developmental disabilities by patting them on their head or shoulders.

  6. Do not lean or hang on to someone’s wheelchair. Physically disabled people treat their wheelchairs as extensions of their bodies.

  7. Listen carefully when talking with people who have difficulty speaking. Wait for them to finish. Ask short questions that require short answers or which can be answered by a nod or shake of the head. If you don’t understand; ask them to repeat what they have said. Don’t pretend to understand.

  8. Place yourself at eye level when speaking with someone in a wheelchair or on crutches. Offer a person in a wheelchair the choice of sitting in a chair.

  9. Tap a hearing impaired person on the shoulder or wave your hand to get his or her attention. Look directly at the person, speak clearly, slowly and expressively to establish if the person can read your lips. If they can; face the light source. Keep your hands, cigarettes and food away from your mouth while you are talking.

  10. Relax. Don’t be embarrassed if you use common sayings such as ”See you later.”, “Did you hear?”, or other expressions which may relate to a person’s disability.

Based on the source: National Center for Access Unlimited/Chicago



Art Facilitation As An Inclusive Practice

by Jan Swinburne A.O.C.A.

Arts Advisor/Facilitator Workman Theatre Project and Creative Spirit Art Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Part 1: Defining art facilitation

Part 2: Three models of art facilitation

article: Linguistic Facility and the Visual Arts

(View as .pdf document here)


Jan Swinburne Six Figures 2004

Jan Swinburne, Six Figures, 2004


Part 1: Defining Art Facilitation


Historical Background:

• Art facilitation evolved out of the inadequacies of educational and social systems to adapt to the requirements of artists with disabilities and social disadvantage.

• Art facilitation is a supportive and pragmatic practice.

• The distinction between educational, therapeutic and facilitating models is one of intent.

Defining differences of intention between 3 models:

• The intention of formal art educational systems is to: impart knowledge of historical, conceptual and technical models. And to prepare students for professional art practices.

• The intention of art therapy is: to address clinical outcomes of relieving distress, gaining psychological insights, controlling behaviour, and the like.

• The intention of art facilitation is: to assist artists for whom the other two  systems are inadequate in addressing their individual requirements when pursuing artistic endeavours.

• To create opportunities and alternatives for artists who face barriers in the mainstream arts and arts education communities.

The emphasis is on making art according to the terms of the individual who is making it.


Overlapping features of the different models:


• Art facilitation can impart technical and historical information like educational model.


• Art facilitation can provide positive therapeutic and social benefits that could be measured if warranted.



Part 2: Inclusive Models of Art Facilitation

Three models:


The Art People Association - Workman Theatre Project:


Was created for artists who have used mental health/addiction services to have contact with other artists within and from outside the mental health community. The association provides informal monthly meetings in which the members of the group determine the agenda. To date the association has provided guest speakers, information and hands on sessions.

At this time, membership is comprised of primarily of self-taught artists who want the focus of the model to be information and education based. Workman Theatre Project provides funding, a place to meet, resource materials, and a professional artist-facilitator to coordinate the group and work with the individual members on an as needed basis.

The baseline goals of the association are to provide peer contact and facilitate professional development. This model provides services that are difficult to access in the local arts community for financial, social, and medical reasons. It is an educational, peer support model.

Art Facilitation at The Jean Simpson Studio - Workman Theatre Project:

Is a practical facilitation model that provides studio space for artists who use mental health/addiction services and have inadequate or no studio resources. Some art materials are provided. The program is run on an open studio model with a yearlong artist-in-residence (monitor) position.

Artists work independently and have free access to the space during working hours while in the program.

The artists and the artist in residence are supported with problem solving by Workman Theatre Project staff (Visual Arts Coordinator), for the smooth running of the studio. The primary goal of the studio is to assist artists through practical means to build up a body of work or to work on projects that require adequate space to complete. It is a practical, peer support model.

Art Facilitation at The Creative Spirit Art Centre:

Provides individual art facilitation to adults within a cross-disability/universal access model. Facilitation is informal and non-structured, ranging from peer support, practical problem solving related to specific disabilities and providing technical information/problem solving appropriate to developmental/cognitive abilities.

Facilitation of the shared workspace involves conflict resolution, creating and maintaining a safe, comfortable and welcoming work environment (psychologically and physically), and when appropriate, liaise with support agencies to assist with independent art making beyond the Centre. It is a practical, community education and peer support model.


The three models presented are examples of the core objectives of art facilitation as an inclusive, supportive and pragmatic practice.




Untitled by Jan Swinburne

Jan Swinburne, Stormsky


Linguistic Facility and the Visual Arts


It would seem somehow obvious that visual intelligence (- in the aesthetic sense: defined by structuring conventions of two and three dimensional forms intent on effective expression.), is not dependant on linguistic facility since much of visual art is made as an expression to fulfill a need in which words are inadequate. In this there is a fascinating paradox.


Linguistic process in the creation and interpretation of visual art functions as a set of possibilities that orbit around the aesthetic expression, yet the very effectiveness of that expression is dependent on its ineffability. Ironically, the power of the aesthetic expression will generate linguistic processes in proportion to its degree of impact caused by its ineffability. All paradoxes tend to persist in consciousness, in interest and through time.


This very non verbal process tends to generate a lot of verbal activity. To a certain degree, art and art-making can be seen as a mirror to the ultimate frustration associated with having a communication disability. People wish to understand the expression, they feel its urgency and may be absolutely convinced that they uniquely understand the message and become self appointed interpreters, yet when they begin to declare their findings to others they are astounded at their extreme differences of interpretation.


Yet plural interpretation, plural communication is the luxury of aesthetic expression. Unlike the frustration and resulting social isolation that occurs with disabilities of practical linguistic communication, the aesthetic expression allows a unique connection to one’s self and ultimately for the artist, to others. One of my instructors used to describe the process of making art as having a conversation with one’s self and letting others overhear.


For an artist with communication disabilities this creates an opportunity to let others know one’s inner realm and may facilitate social connections that may be otherwise unattainable. The enhancement of this opportunity resides in the quality of the art. Ineffective art does not generate a connection anymore than a disability generates an artist. Strong aesthetic visual intelligence is necessary for effective art and is not dependent on linguistic facility for its production. However, linguistic facility has become a dominant force in the professional art world as a whole, particularly in regard to promotion and associated scholarship. This allows fundamental prejudices and barriers to artists with impairments or disabilities of verbal persuasion.


Jan Swinburne, HouseThis paradoxical relationship of language and the visual arts simultaneously creates the inclusive socio-cultural activities of which language is a vital force; at the same time, that very society constructs an exclusivity and inequity through a lack of awareness or critical analysis of the actual role of language in the creation of art. The value of language, as related to the process, becomes confused with the language response generated by the completed work.


In an attempt to further clarify this point, one could describe public/social implications of visual art as being a linguistic dependent activity separate and independent from the non-linguistic, private/ internal creative process/experience shared by the artist and the individual observer.


By discussion of linguistic process in the realm of visual art it is my hope to generate interest in practices of inclusiveness and equity regardless of an artist’s degree of linguistic facility. I believe this can begin by addressing the role of language in the visual arts. This means of course, dancing with the paradox.


© Jan Swinburne 2005


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