Art and Resilience: Communication in the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf’s Art Show

I was not sure what to expect when I first visited the art show for the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

Through the month of October, Philadelphia’s City Hall has the artwork of deaf children, ranging from ages 5 to 18 in grades k-12. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, and even articles of clothing are encased in glass for spectators to see. Obviously, hearing loss does not impair one’s ability to create visual art. Though I was very excited to see this show, I also wondered what the specific appeal would be for art created by deaf individuals.

Once I got to the show, I was very surprised by the profundity, detail, and depth of each piece on display.

Several of the pictures, especially one of a cat’s face, could easily have been mistaken for museum pieces. The clothing I saw was very reminiscent of the bohemian fashions I have seen in Cape May, New Jersey and Brooklyn, New York. Even the work of the littlest children stood out because of its color and well-planned structure. Across the glass cases, I saw work that was nothing short of remarkable, and I actually found myself wishing I could take at least one or two pieces home for my wall.

In many pieces, I saw acute notations of subtle features, yet creative means of incorporating them into the image. A piece that comes to mind here is one about the PSD gym, which is mostly hand-drawn except for a photograph of a young man shooting a hoop. The subtle, yet lively pencil marks, when balanced with the photograph’s sharpness, gave the image motion that would not have been found with pencils or photos alone. I may not have met the artist, but I can feel their liveliness and love of basketball through the choices they make in displaying their image. Their basketball player is coming right at you with the ball, so you better be ready to embrace it and play.

What struck me the most about this show is human resilience with self-expression. Though these children cannot hear or communicate via spoken word, they still have strong voices. Each piece of artwork was that deaf individual’s voice, and the entire art show was a chance for them to be known. From looking at an individual’s art, whether they are deaf or hearing, it is very easy to see into elements of their character. This exhibition was a true reminder of the human spirit’s vitality, and its refusal to be silenced, with or without sound. Regardless of what limitations an individual may have, people will always find a means to express their ideas. I hope that these kids continue their self-expression long after graduation, and that I can pick up their work in a museum or store in the not-too-distant future.

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