Note: I originally wrote this in June, but didn’t have all the info and links that I wanted. Then work and life intervened, so I’m posting it now (11/14/2016). —Nancy C.
The Beginnings of De’VIA
Just before Memorial Day weekend, I was in Chicago for the De’VIA Elder’s Reunion and Conference/Exhibit. We elders (signed as “wise artists”) had not been together as a group since the time, 27 years ago, when we came up with a definition of “De’VIA” and a written and visual manifesto.
De’VIA, Deaf View/Image Art, started with a workshop led by Betty G. Miller and Paul Johnston in 1989 in preparation for, and supported by, the first Deaf Way Conference held at Gallaudet University. There were nine of us who signed the resulting manifestos— seven artists, one art historian, and one video artist who filmed the workshop. The title of the four-day workshop was, “What is Deaf Art?”
Why was that such a problem? Many people who see the term “Deaf Art” know intuitively what it is. Isn’t that a bit like asking, “What is art?,” or “What is air?” But do they really know? The obvious answer: Deaf Art is anything created by a deaf artist.
But who’s a deaf artist? A Deaf(1) person who uses sign language and is a member of the community, who does art. Is that all? What about a person who’s lost their hearing in childhood, as a youth, or any other age? What if they don’t know there is a Deaf community, but knowingly paint their deafness? What about a child with deaf parents (Codas), or parents of deaf kids, or interpreters and others who work with deaf people everyday? What about a hearing company or person who has no connection at all with any deaf people, but makes “I Love You” buttons, jewelry, other items? Are they all creating Deaf Art?
Those are the kinds of questions we struggled with 27 years ago, and are still discussing today. However, nothing comes from nothing and deaf artists had met several times before, these kind of questions were not new.(2) The recognition of art that reflects deaf people’s experiences was also not new. What was different this time was a new name: Deaf View/Image Art, also known as De’VIA from its acronym DVIA; a visual manifesto (a painting); a written manifesto that laid out the formal elements of art that emphasized a deaf artist’s experience; and its introduction at Deaf Way in July 1989. The presentation given by Betty G. Miller and Paul Johnston was attended by many deaf artists from various countries, who worked in various fields.
De’VIA Elder’s Reunion
Jim Van Manen,(3) publisher and author of the first two books in the Deaf Artists series,(4) has been planning to write a book about the framers of De’VIA and made plans to visit each of us to interview us for his book. When he realized that we hadn’t been together, and hadn’t discussed these ideas with each other since 1989, he decided to bring us as a group to a two-day workshop, followed by a two-day conference with us and others in the deaf arts community, with a concurrent exhibit of De’VIA artworks.
Five of us from the original nine were there, along with two others who had been invited back then, but couldn’t come. They are: Dr. Paul Johnston; Sandi Inches; Guy Wonder, III; Alex Wilhite; and myself, Nancy Creighton. Added to the group were Ann Silver and Dr. Tony McGregor. Three of the original group have passed away, all in 2012: Charles Baird; Lai-Yok Judy Ho, the videographer; and Dr. Betty G. Miller. Dr. Debbie Sonnenstrahl Blumenson, the art historian of the group, couldn’t attend for medical reasons.
The first day, just us seven, was focussed on individual interviews. Jim’s assistants had two cameras going at once, in different rooms, asking us all the same questions. The focus of the questions was what happened during the four days in 1989— what the process was, and what we thought of De’VIA now. While that was going on, the rest of us were meeting in “the green room” which wasn’t green, but took the name from the room used in television when guests are waiting to go on. However, we weren’t to talk about De’VIA past or present— Jim asked us not to, so that he could capture all our ideas and comments and energy the next day, when we were scheduled to meet as a group and remember the ’89 workshop together, as well as discuss where De’VIA has gone since.
The Conference and My Struggles
The two days after our reunion was a conference open to others. There were 33 of us in the gallery, mostly deaf artists and arts administrators. The schedule for both days ended up being just a general suggestion, as most of the presentations with Q & A sessions ran over, and some presentations were shortened or cancelled altogether (due to Deaf Peoples’ Time, DPT!). Much of the time, both days, was spent in the gallery showing De’VIA artwork where the artists who were there talked about their work on display, and all of it was fodder for discussion; and in the larger gallery where student work was displayed and we were all seated in a large circle. Those circle discussions centered on revisiting the 1989 workshop, why the written manifesto was confusing people, the name itself, what De’VIA means today, and what we visualize for the future.
One of the things that Jim got through to me during the discussions is that the meaning of the word “De’VIA” has changed. It took over 20 years, but the deaf community has finally come to understand that De’VIA means “Deaf experience.” The word “De’VIA” is now being used by artists in other fields, such as theater and poetry. It took me awhile to accept this, for two reasons.
First, back in 1989 we were only talking about art. The manifesto specifies that it’s about fine art and lists a number of tendencies, which are all formal elements of art. Things like central focus and high contrast, for example— things we had all learned about in art school.
During our circle discussions, people kept dropping the word “image” from the name, and the word “fine” when they were talking about the art produced. Those words are in the manifesto for a reason. When we wrote the manifesto, we were thinking of an audience of artists, who understand the specific meaning of the words. Art has many functions— such as illustration, product design, advertising, decoration. Fine art generally has no function. It is entire in itself. It is appreciated for its aesthetic, imaginative and intellectual content, and isn’t limited in its media. Image is a view of the object itself, whether it’s an original artwork or a photograph or other representation of the original work. But those words don’t necessarily apply to other artistic disciplines.
The second reason it was difficult for me to wrap my head around this was because we did a lot of work to come up with the conceptual recognition of De’VIA, and the formal elements that tend to show in the work; and come up with a name, one which is based on visual fine art. To my knowledge, other artistic disciplines hadn’t done the work of analyzing what the criteria was for their field. When I was visiting NTID(5) a while ago, a student asked me why we rejected other disciplines such as theater and poetry when we wrote the manifesto. I was really surprised by that interpretation. I explained that we didn’t reject any other field. We simply couldn’t talk for them. We didn’t know the criteria poets have for expressing the Deaf experience though ASL, nor what criteria theatre people would come up with. We were all trained artists, talking only about what we knew— fine art. For example, if a deaf high school troupe presents “Hamlet” in ASL, is that De’VIA? Not to my mind, but I’m not a theatre person— they need to decide for themselves.
One of the other things I brought up in the discussions is that in my opinion, one of the most important lines in the original manifesto is, “De’VIA is created when the artist intends to express their Deaf experience through visual art.” We may often see deafness in an artist’s work, or we interpret it that way based on our own experiences. But we don’t have the right to label an artist’s work as De’VIA if they don’t want to claim that label themselves. Another line that I think is important states that Deaf artists tend to use specific formal elements in their artwork. It’s not a recipe to follow, and there are many ways artists can express themselves.
As a writer, a “word person,” I do understand that language changes, and in these times, with the speed of internet communication, it changes frequently. So after sleeping on it, I was able to fully accept that the word “De’VIA” now stands for any kind of artistic expression that intentionally conveys the d/Deaf experience. Over time, people may even forget where the word came from, as often happens with words and phrases in English.
Most of the afternoon of the second day of the conference was spent developing a statement of philosophy about De’VIA and how we view it now, after 27 years. We all had the chance to participate, and I talked more in a group than I had in years! I was thrilled by the fact that we had 33 people in a large circle, mostly deaf people, hashing out a document written in English that all of us could understand, agree with, and sign our names to— even when we didn’t agree about everything. It was a delight to argue about ideas with people, examine concepts and alternatives and not have it fall apart into an emotional pot of crabs pulling each other down.
We also worked on a mural, really a large painting, because that is becoming a tradition of De’VIA conferences. Going back to my fiber artist identity, I worked up gray wool corners that stand in for the enclosing world at large, but didn’t have time to finish what I planned as far as adding in color yarn to represent deaf people.
We all agreed that we want to establish some kind of deaf artists center/guild/museum. Questions regarding what, exactly, we’ll form and where it will be were all tabled for a future discussion because time was running out. It was the last day, and we were having party that night— a closing reception for the conference and the exhibit where we all dressed in our ’80s clothes.
I had a fabulous time the two days of the reunion and the two days of the conference. We all rekindled old friendships and made new friends. We watched Nyle DiMarco and his partner Peta win “Dancing with the Stars” and were fascinated by their interpretive dance to “The Sound of Silence.” I, personally, am proud of all the work we did, and feel that I understand better what’s become of De’VIA over the past 27 years. Thank you, Jim, for making this all come together.
(1) Deaf with a capital “D” denotes a person who identifies themselves as part of the Deaf community, and prefers to use sign language, in this case, American Sign Language, ASL. Small “d” deaf is what I used to be, a person who doesn’t hear– a medical distinction in relation to the hearing world.
(2) See Ann Silver: Deaf Artists Series, pages 190-193 for a timeline of deaf artists meetings.
(3) Jim Van Manen is the author of the first two books in the Deaf Artists Series, published by Empyreal Press. He is a Coda (Child of Deaf Adults), teaches ASL at Columbia College Chicago, is publishing a book on fingerspelling, planned and funded this conference— which will then supply the content for the third book in the Deaf Artists Series.
(4) Empyreal Press, publisher of specialty books about people in the deaf community and American Sign Language. http://www.empyrealpress.com/#about
(5) NTID: National Technical Institute of the Deaf, a college of the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York.
Durr, Patti (2014) https://handeyes.wordpress.com/tag/what-devia-is-and-is-not/
Durr, Patti (April 2015) De’VIA Timeline: https://devartivistunited.wordpress.com/devia-history/devia-timeline/
Miller, et al (1989) Text of the Deaf View/Image Art manifesto. http://www.deafart.org/Deaf_Art_/deaf_art_.html
Van Manen, et al (2016) Text of the Statement of Philosophy developed during the reunion conference. https://purpleswirlarts.wordpress.com/devia-statement-of-philosophy-%E2%80%A2-may-2016/
Gallaudet Video Library. Deaf Artists Series, Betty G. Miller: De Via (stet) http://videocatalog.gallaudet.edu/?video=17244
A lot of bloggers keep to a schedule– once a week or once a day. I’ve never been able to do that. I only write when I have something I really want to share with my readers.
I’ve been trying now for a couple of weeks to write about the fantastic week I had in Chicago just before Memorial Day weekend. For the first few days I visited with my cousin, Pat, in Lake Bluff, Illinois. We haven’t seen each other for more than 30 years. It was nice to reconnect with her, and through her and her kids, reconnect with my mother who died in 1995.
Then Pat drove me into the city to attend the De’VIA Elders Reunion Conference and Exhibit at Columbia College Chicago. I’m really glad I went– it was not only a good time, but a great process to re-examine the four-day workshop where De’VIA was born in 1989 and see how De’VIA has grown since.
But I’ve been stuck. Yes, I have other things to do in my life, and I’ve really been busy. But I’ve also tried to write and couldn’t. I even purposely haven’t returned some emails because I don’t want to dissipate my thoughts and energy about this. I did, though, have dinner soon after my return with my friends Carolyn and Judy. I commanded all the attention that night, telling them all about my experiences in Chicago– but I haven’t been able to get that energy onto the page. Last night, I vented about this to Judy, and she replied this morning:
Boy, now I’m wishing that you were filming me when I held court at Carolyn’s about the reunion conference. What I’m writing feels so dry compared to what I told you. I haven’t had such a hard time writing for quite awhile.
You’re expressing yourself in a different mode now with an audience you can’t see– and one that can’t see that you are charming. Without our rapt attention encouraging your spontaneity, you feel you’re trying to capture ideas as slippery as fish with your hands– instead of making them leap from your hands on the wave of your joy at expressing them.
Writer’s block — how I sympathize 😕
Be nice to yourself with tea and dessert– inspire yourself by rereading something that you wrote previously under the spell of eager transport of ideas buoying you along. Without that feeling, the heavy sinking sensation will be hard to escape every time you look at a clock.
Btw– thanks again for our girl’s afternoon out– I really needed to stop writing for a bit so I could stop trying so hard. When I felt better about myself, it was easier to more efficiently release my ideas about each child I was documenting.
Sorry for all this blather! Catch up with you later 😘💕❗️
BLATHER??? Thanks, Judy! This support was like getting a shot of B12. I sat down and just poured out unconnected ideas and memories, and got down the most important points I want to get across. So that was a breakthrough. Now, I’ve got to pull it all together into a post you can read sequentially. Give me a couple more days for that.
According to the annual report below, I only posted three times this past year, and three times the year before that. I’ve been busy, just haven’t been writing about my busyness. While recovering from a broken hip has taken up a lot of my physical and emotional time, I’ve also:
Planned and produced a memorial for Betty with a lot of help from our friends!
Participated in a gathering of deaf artists who were part of an art show: Let There Be Light: De^Artivism.
Did the layout work for the art show’s catalog, which is available here as a free download, and also as a print-on-demand book.
Looked for a job but haven’t found one yet (job hunting is amazingly time consuming!) If you think you’d like to hire me, see my LinkedIn profile for more information.
Began formal training in indexing. I just completed Module A of the course provided by the American Society for Indexing, and am waiting for the test results.
Did design work, as contractor or subcontractor, for the National Interpreter Education Center (NIEC) and the National Consortium of Interpreter Education Centers (NCIEC). You can view the result of those jobs and others on my online portfolio.
I’m looking forward to 2016 as a year of possibilities, and wish the same for you.
(Dick is my brother, Tucker is my dog, and the rest of our family are cats.)
The Annual Report
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.
You’ve seen this image before, haven’t you? It’s on page 129 of Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America by Jack R. Gannon. That’s the first page of the entry on Betty G. Miller, and it’s one of the most well-known paintings she’s created. But if all you’ve seen is a photo like this online, or in the pages of a book, you’re missing out. In the book it’s only 5″ square, and this online version is only 500 pixels square, and it’s in black and white. In reality, though, it’s a large color painting.
Here’s a photo of Betty taken with the painting which gives you an idea of the actual color and size. Surprised?
Nothing beats real
It’s true that in this internet-driven world most of us only see art on the screen, and before the ‘net, we mostly saw it in art books. The image may grab our attention. We may like it, or even love it. But it isn’t real. Real artwork has power. When you see the real thing, it draws you into the experience and makes you feel. Sometimes you recognize that feeling because it mirrors your own experience. If it doesn’t, then it probably opens your eyes to how someone else experiences the world, someone different from you. And that’s a good thing.
Let There Be Light: De^ARTivism
An art show begins this week in DC. It’s being held at the Pepco Edison Gallery, 702 Eighth Street, NW, WDC, 20068. I’ve been working to create a digital catalog of art show, and it’s going to be very powerful. It’s called Let There Be Light: De^ARTivism. Yes, that’s a new word. As exhibit curator Ellen Mansfield writes in her statement:
… [defined] the term artivist as an “…(artist + activist) who uses her artistic talents to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression— by any medium necessary.” … Thus, we have coined the term “De^ARTivism” to represent De’VIA artists who take a stand, and we use the caret (^) instead of the apostrophe (‘) to mimic the sign for “STAND.” (De’VIA, short for Deaf View/Image Art, is art created when the artist intends express ideas and feelings about the experience of being deaf.)
Two of Betty’s paintings will be there, Bell School, 1944, and a neon called Frazzled. They are just two of around 80 artworks! Please come to see and feel the power of original art. The gallery hours are limited (12 noon to 4 PM, Tuesday through Friday), so come to the receptions.
The opening reception is Wednesday, August 12, 2015 from 5 to 8 PM.
The closing reception is Wednesday, September 2, 2015 from 5 to 8 PM.
See you there!
I’m on Instagram as purpleswirlarts. I’ll be in DC all week because I’m joining a group of Deaf artists represented in this show in a retreat. I plan to post photos using the hashtag: #D^A so follow me and see what’s happening.
Also, for more information on everything about the show, see: https://deviapepcoedisongallery.wordpress.com/
UPDATE Tuesday, August 18:
Between trouble getting online (I’ve an iPod Touch, not a phone), a busy week, and plain old exhaustion, I’m behind in my Instagram postings. I’ll catch up, just after the fact.
I just came in from walking my dog, Tucker. A year ago, I took him out, drove to one of our places to walk, and just after letting him out of the car, I fell. It was just before 8 pm, and getting dark. I was very lucky that a kind stranger driving by noticed me lying on the sidewalk– I was only there for a few minutes. He helped me up and half-walked, half-carried me the few steps to my car, but the pain was too much, I couldn’t stand or walk on it. He called my brother for me, and Dick arrived and called 911, and one of my best friends, Judy, a “sister by choice.” Judy tells me that when the paramedics moved me off the gurney onto the bed at the hospital, I screamed. I had no idea I was making any sound, but she said she’ll never forget it. A day and a half later I had surgery to replace my broken hip. It was a partial replacement– I still have all of my pelvic bone, only the head of the femur was replaced.
The true loss of this fall was the loss of my independence. I was lucky to have my brother living with me, able and willing to take care of me. In the beginning he had to do all of my shopping, my laundry, help me get out of bed the days it hurt too much to move, and drive me everywhere. Recovery has been a long, hard road. Even with excellent physical therapy (thanks, Joe and Yoni!) I’m not walking like I used to.
I limp, I take Aleve, I use a cane. But I also walk my dog, do my own shopping and laundry, drive. I’ve got about 99.99% of my independence back– I still ask Dick to bring in the bags full of food after I’ve gone shopping.
I’ve been busy the past few months. I posted a lot of the sharing from Betty’s memorial before diving into other work. But not everything. The hangup? Accessibility. In the slideshow I prepared, there’s a video of Betty talking about one of her paintings. I tried to caption it, but kept running into technical problems. Though I’m pretty good at teaching myself new things, I had to stop working on this to work on a paying project, and haven’t yet had a chance to go back to it. I will soon, and then I’ll announce it. In the meantime, you can see what’s available on the link at the top right of these pages, “Betty G. Miller – Memorial.”
This is just a quick note to tell all of you about the upcoming Memorial Program for Betty G. Miller.
As you all probably know by now, Betty died December 3, 2012 (see https://purpleswirlarts.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/passagesbettygmiller/ for her obituary). This is the third time we’ve started to plan a memorial. The last one, planned for April 12, 2014 had to be cancelled when I fell and broke my hip. I was in a rehab facility working on learning to walk again last April. I’m a lot better, though walking with a cane for now.
I’m finally able to work on a memorial, and with the help of several friends, we’re planning one for December 7th. It will be held in the lobby of the Washburn Art Building at Gallaudet because that’s where Betty was happy. Here’s the specific information:
Sunday, December 7, 2014
Washburn Art Building
Gallaudet University, Washington, DC
Memorial Program 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Gallery closes at 1:00 PM
Jan DeLap will be the emcee for the program, and there will be light refreshments served before and after the program. Parking at Gallaudet will be free, no need to get a permit.
Please RSVP to NanC (a temporary address) ASAP so that we have a count for the chairs and food.
— Nancy Creighton
P.S.: I recently went to NTID for their Viva De’VIA events. I’d never used Instagram before, so I played around with it. You can see my photos at: http://instagram.com/purpleswirlarts
P.P.S.: Patti Durr at NTID has posted some videos from the banquet online. Brenda Schertz played the part of Betty, going up to different tables and giving her biography. See it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjvyyPEnrok&list=TLvLXwAUcVi70&index=1