Art and Self-Expression at an Intersection with RA

I have been diagnosed with RA officially for 3 years as of the first week of this past October. It's been a tortuous 3 years between my condition getting worse and major life changes including graduation, finding a job, starting grad school, moving multiple times, and more.

But it hasn't all been bad; in fact, most of it has been in a vein of self-growth and understanding. One thing that has really helped me explore my illness and — at the very least — come to some sort of understanding of/reckoning with it is art.

Expression through visual forms of art

I'm not a trained artist (my training is actually in another art form: writing/literature), but I frequently dabble and participate in visual forms of art.

I've created installations and pieces that have incorporated text-based elements rearranged in different shapes and forms to communicate the mutability and flexibility of the world around us.

And while RA might not make my joints flexible, this lens of self-expression has been instrumental in my personal blossoming as a person, an artist, and as someone who advocates for those with chronic illnesses (including myself).

How chronic illness and disability inform art

What does art look like when you have a chronic illness/disability? Well, it first depends on the type of disability you have.

If your disease impacts your physical movement — including your hands, feet, joints, etc —
it can be difficult to find accommodating tools and materials. Painting and crafting materials can prove arduous when you can't really move your hands or fingers to style.

Sensitivy to nuance and change

But RA also informs a certain sensibility and training to the arts because it opens your eyes to the mutability and movement of the world. It's about self-expression and forming yourself in the midst of flexibility.

In my own work — even outside of art as a hobby — I've found that RA has increased my sensitivity to nuance and change and has heightened my ability to talk about how I move through a word that was not really built for me nor is structured for me in any way.

While disability advocates are working toward creating a more equitable and accessible world — and I feel that art as a form of self-expression can be a form of working toward that goal since it supplies a narrative of what it's like to live with a disability — we still have ways to go.

Catharsis in self-expression

But: I also use art in self-expression as a way to deal with the pain of having RA. A lot of the art that I do is about anguish and corporeal pain, talking about fractures and fissures in identity.

Taking the form of broken apart pieces of metal, pierced textual elements, and new styles, my art emulates the feelings and lived experience of living with a condition that is actively working against you.

Making my story known

While this might appear depressing and overwhelming, there's an element of catharsis and peace in being able to frantically get these feelings out in different mediums and forms. It's not just about showcasing who I am, it's about making me and my story known.

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