Lost and Found: Decoding the Visual Capital of Artist Judith Scott

Fig. 1 Judith Scott (American, 1943‒2005). Untitled, 1993. Fiber and found objects, 44 x 10 x 10 in. (111.8 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm). Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland. © Creative Growth Art Center. (Photo: © Benjamin Blackwell)

Judith Scott was an internationally recognized artist that came to her craft late in life. Scott began art making in her 40’s and did so without fail until the age of 61 when she died. What makes her work so unique is the undeniable emotive quality that is created with both positive space and various colors of yarn loosely lain in some areas and pulled tightly in others. In the survey of the artists’ work entitled Bound and Unbound, exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, we are provided an entry point into the methodology that she employed while making her work. The reasoning behind her artwork remains an enigma because of her disability and her inability to verbally express herself. However, when analyzing the biographical information given about the artist, we are better able to observe the historical context in which these works were referenced. As a result, one could argue that it was Scott’s formative years in an institution, the relationship with her twin sister, and the creative license she was given to explore her craft deeply informed the visual language she developed within the works we see today.

Fig. 2 Untitled (1989), right. Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Scott was known around the Creative Growth Center to appropriate various items and use them in her artwork. [1]When an artist is seeking materials to use in assemblage each artifact has meaning specific to their inner dialogue long before it is brought into a larger discussion. In this piece she has chosen long bright red and blue sticks, with a green beading at the top and a yellow bead at the bottom. Small intricate beads are woven together around the object in a pattern shaped like a child’s hairbrush. The pieces are small and delicate and require focus and a steady hand. The artists’ keen relationship with color is evident with her color theory application. It could be suggested that she spent lots of time throughout her years in silence observing the minutiae of her environment. This hairbrush like structure gives off a playful presentation that evokes childhood. Perhaps an early memory of her sister, or mother, and the intimacy shared within the simplicity of grooming. 

[1] Hassaneldibi “Judith Scott at The Museum of Everything BBC Culture Show 2011.” 2012, 7:37. (Hassaneldibi 2012)

Fig. 3 Judith Scott (American, 1943‒2005). Untitled, 2004. Fiber and found objects, 21 x 16 x 16 in. (53.3 x 40.6 40.6 cm). Creative Growth Art Center, Oakland. © Creative Growth Art Center. (Photo: © Benjamin Blackwell)

Photo courtesy of @Granta

As Judith Scott became more comfortable in her art making, she expressed joy and liked to joke around and have fun. In the final artwork shown, she makes bold color choices. She effortlessly juxtaposes yellows, pinks, red, browns with a hint of blue peeking out from underneath a hood like structure. The colors give it a lighthearted feel and is representative of the hallmark of her work. Scott had a masterful eye for color that could possibly be attributed to her highly observant nature. It appears if there is an upside-down shape resembling a hat on top of the circular cylinder shape. The colors feel festive as if in a celebration. Following a trajectory of her work, she had seemed to reach a point of autonomy and joy within her visual language. The light colors draped around the cylinder with the more somber colors peeking through shows a play on light and is uplifting. 

This survey of Judith Scott’s work in Bound and Unbound at the Brooklyn Museum is a testament to the remarks of feminist disability Scholar Rosmarie Garland-Thomas when she writes that,” human identity is multiple and unstable. That all analysis and evaluation have political implications.”[1] In the context of Scott’s work there has been a lot of debate surrounding her disability. The ongoing debate is whether her disability should be mentioned when creating a visual analysis of her work. One could argue that Scott’s disability allowed her to develop a high level of sensitivity that informed her choices as an artist.  Catherine Morris, curator of the exhibit states that the artists’ work is “not autobiographical.” She also writes that,” the sculptures she made were not metaphorical.” [2] I would concur similarly with Faye Hirsch’s  review of the exhibit calling for viewers to make include her biography as a respect to her achievements.[3] I would go further and state that with her limited connections to the outside world Judith Scott had early memories of her life before she was separated from her family She witnessed and possibly experienced suffering while institutionalized, which could symbolize the wrapping of objects and keeping them together or safe. The artwork that she created as she gained comfort and confidence appeared anthropomorphic and possibly symbolized feeling, albeit not intellectually reasoned, comfort she experienced reuniting with her sister and in creating art at the center. Based on those facts we can look at her work in a different way and provide new meaning. 

[1] Garland-Thomas, Rosemarie 2002. “Integrating Disability, Transforming Feminist Theory.” NWSA Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, Feminist Disability Studies (Autumn, 2002), pp. 1-32. Accessed May 24, 2020 (Garland-Thomas 2002)

[2] Morris, Catherine. “Bound and Unbound.” 2014. New York City. Prestel Publishing. (Morris 2014)

[3] Hirsch, Faye. “Judith Scott.” Art in America. February 3, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2020. https://www.artnews.com/art-in-america/aia-reviews/judith-scott-2-61864/


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