‘Unraveling Ravel’ podcast: art and neurodivergence

I recently came across a Radiolab podcast about 2 artists- a biologist turned painter, Anne Adams, and a composer in early 20th century, Maurice Ravel. Both of these people had progressive brain disease that affects language and memory, and as the podcast describes it, one of the first symptoms of the disease for both of them was an intense creativity and desire to make art.

The podcast has an interesting description of their artistic work and the similarities between their art and experiences with progressive aphasia, but it tries to use people with this disease to make broad conclusions about the “mysteries of creativity”. This is a particular kind of objectification that is often applied to disabled people, holding them up as both inspiration and lesson about “human nature” that is useful to others, rather than as whole people with complex lives of their own. The podcast also defines “human-ness” by how complex a task someone can perform- in one part, the narrator says a task like painting is much more “human” than something like pouring water, and implies that Adams became less human as time went on. Obviously, this is problematic.

Besides these critiques, I’ve been thinking about how Adams’ and Ravel’s work relates to disability culture. I’m not sure either of them explicitly identified as disabled, but art that is created by and especially that which reflects disabled people’s perspectives and interpretations of the world are usually included in disability culture. Repetition and detail are both important things for many neurodivergent people, and I think viewing these artists’ work as part of a discrete culture is better than writing it off as merely the results of a neurological condition.


This link includes the podcast, as well as an image of one of Adams’ paintings: http://www.radiolab.org/story/217340-unraveling-bolero/


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