Hiles and Ekstrum Present at CAA Conference
Tim Hiles, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Art History at the School of Art will be presenting on Thursday, February 16, at the College Art Association (CAA) Annual Conference in New York City. Hiles is presenting with 2022 MFA graduate Ashley Ekstrum who worked with him as a research assistant prior to graduation and who has collaborated on research since.
Their presentation, entitled, Regarding Disability Trophes in Art is part of the session, “Disability, Difference and Devotion”.
Hiles explains their topic, saying,
Beyond physical limitations that prevent them from acting with full agency, artists with disabilities often face less-tangible limitations associated with biographic tropes and stereotypes. In some cases, these tropes become inseparable from the work and alter our understanding. Imagine how different our reaction to the paintings of van Gogh would be minus the stereotypes associated with mental illness.
Although disability tropes can enrich our experience with the work, and sometimes foster a deeper appreciation, they can also cloud and diminish the viewer’s experience with predetermined assumptions. Disability tropes have been variously identified by scholars, perhaps most poignantly by Rosemarie Garland Thomson who has described the wondrous, the sentimental, and the exotic as particularly damaging.
How artists address these tropes is the subject of this paper. Mary Duffy, for example, who was born without arms and paints with her feet, began to address these tropes when at age 20 she realized there were “no images of disabled people that did not reek of tragedy or pity.” Sue Austin, who began using a wheelchair after an extended illness, confronted the pity and sympathy many expressed by exploiting another trope, the wondrous, in her work Creating the Spectacle, which refers to the joy and freedom the wheelchair provided her after being confined to her bed. This paper, presented through the perspectives of an art historian and a practicing artist, will consider how tropes and stereotypes alter our understanding of works by artists with disabilities. It will also consider how artists address those preconceptions.
The CAA Annual Conference is the largest convening of art historians, artists, designers, curators, and visual art professionals in the US. Each year they offer sessions submitted by members, committees, and affiliated societies offering a wide range of content. The program offers content critical to constituent fields’ scholarship, approaches to pedagogy, and social justice issues. As an organization, they emphasize diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.
Timothy W. Hiles received his Ph.D. from Penn State University where his studies emphasized the early modern movement in Germany and Austria and the history of photography. His recent research encompasses visual perception within twentieth-century American photography and film and the representation of disability in historical and contemporary art.
Ashley Ekstrum received her MFA in painting and drawing from the UT School of Art in 2022. She received her BA in Fine Art and Multimedia Design from Pepperdine University in 2017. While a student at UT, Ekstrum served as Director for Gallery 1010, a contemporary art exhibition space located at 100 S. Gay Street in Suite 114 of The Emporium Center of downtown Knoxville, Tennessee. Gallery 1010 is the only fully student-run, non-profit, off-campus exhibition space in the state of Tennessee.