The central question of this thesis is: How are contemporary artists representing mental disability? Based on the work of Tobin Siebers in Disability Theory and Disability Aesthetics, this thesis discusses mental disability studies as a growing subset of disability studies. After briefly examining case studies of artworks from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this thesis culminates in an analysis of two contemporary artists, Laura Splan and Beverly Fishman, and analyzes the implications of their work in regard to disability studies.
By tracing the representation of mental disability from before modernism to the present, this thesis argues that there is a prevalent shift away from the figurative representation of mental disability and a shift toward abstraction to communicate the condition of the socially constructed lack—or disability.
Keywords: mental disability, disability aesthetics, visual art and mental health, Laura Splan, Beverly Fishman