San Francisco Bay Area

The San Francisco Bay Area is a magnet for artists who are drawn to its experimental atmosphere, countercultural spirit, and history of innovation. The artists in this hour are united by their steadfastness and persistence in creating.

The “San Francisco Bay Area” episode features Creative Growth Art Center, Katy Grannan, Lynn Hershman Leeson, and Stephanie Syjuco.

AIRED: September 28, 2018 | 0:55:13

[dramatic string music]

- As soon as someone tries to tell you what to do,

it takes away part of the original voice.

So we say, "What would you like to do?"

"What're you thinking about?" "What did you dream about?"

"What color do you like? Tell us your story."

[electronic music]

- Okay, could you not get in front of my camera?

[ambient music]

- I come from a pretty traditional

sculpture background, in the sense that I spent four years

in art school, literally just making things.

You know, to hand-make something mean

you're gonna process it.

Like, it comes into your head,

and then it moves through your body,

and then it--you--it gets pushed back out into the world.

[sewing machine whirring]

I'm interested in how objects reflect cultural moments.

And I think I'm trying to figure out,

you know, why we value what we value.

[electronic music]

So with the "Counterfeit Crochet Project,"

I invited crochet crafters from all over the world

to join me in bootlegging designer handbags.

The invitation was to choose a designer handbag

that you would like to own, but couldn't afford,

download an image from it online,

and then using your own crochet crafting skills,

hand-make it.

And interestingly, it touched a nerve,

and, you know, lots of people started to join up,

and then send me photographs of themselves

with their handmade bags.

It was fun and lighthearted, but invariably

what would happen was, you know,

we would have these really great discussions about

everything from the hierarchy of the fashion system

to, you know, global counterfeiting schemes.

I think one of the reasons I got interested in this idea of,

like, bootlegs or counterfeits, is actually, it's an extension

from this idea that there is an authentic,

and, you know, from a very personal standpoint,

I was really curious about what it meant to be

an authentic, um, Filipino.

[ambient music]

I was thinking a lot about

historical ethnographic photography.

Specifically, um, images I'd seen taken in the Philippines.

So the whole series is made in Omaha, Nebraska,

which I think is hilarious.

And I had gone to the shopping malls,

and using my credit card,

purchased mass-consumer goods,

took them back to my studio, and then styled them.

And then returned them all to the department stores

for full store credit.

So it was kind of this way of

thinking about what we wanna consume in those images,

partaking in it, but then also denying it.

This is something that, um...

It's a portrait of my mother and myself,

um, not long after we moved to, um, uh,

the U.S. from the Philippines.

And then for my birthday,

she decided to take me to Disneyland.

And so this photograph is actually, I think,

in the Frontierland, where you can pay

to have your portrait taken

after you put on all these western costumes.

I think, you know, at the time,

we were trying on these fictional identities

of, uh, what it might have looked like

to be a new American.

Also, I mean, it's an amazing portrait.

Like, my mom is 22 years old here, and she looks beautiful,

and I'm this angry little four year old.


- [singing "El Breve Espacio En Que No Estás"]

- The title of my next exhibition

is called "Citizens."

I think there's always been embedded politics in my work,

whether it's issues of colonialism or capitalism.

But given recent politics,

I've been really trying to figure out how to actually

put it more at the forefront.

- Ready to fight? all: Damn right.

- Are you ready to fight? all: Damn right.

- The Bay Area has been a real flash point

for a lot of recent protests,

and so I feel like I've been in the middle of it.

You know, you watch the news, you watch images flashing by,

and you're kind of trying to process it all.

We need to figure out how wide the actual banner is.

And I was noticing that this one particular banner

kept popping up.

And depending on how it was held up,

or how it was being displayed,

you could, or in some cases, could not read the text.

Cool. - All right.

- And so I downloaded those images,

and then, you know, traced it on the computer,

projected it onto a larger piece of fabric,

and then hand sewed it.

It says "Become Ungovernable," and it's kind of, you know,

I feel like the banner itself is becoming ungovernable.

Like, it's got loose ends, it's got, you know,

the text itself is kind of, like, falling off the page,

um, so it's ki--trying to kind of embody that,

um--that inability to be controlled.

One of the problems, I think, with slogans

is that people think they already know

what the slogan means,

and so you can either shut off to it,

or you can, you know, nod your head in agreement.

So when I was using these images of protests,

I was more interested in actually how they're filtered

through media channels.

In a lot of my projects, I'm really interested

in this connection between the analog and the digital.

So, I decided to create this huge

hand-sewn, quilted, checkerboard background.

[mouse clicks]

And it resembles a Photoshop transparency background.

When you cut out an image in Photoshop,

Photoshop will put in this, like, really weird

you know, checkerboard pattern.

It's actually to point out this idea that,

you know, digital culture is not neutral,

that simply because there's a computer involved

doesn't mean that there isn't human labor.

Um, hmm.

Yeah, let me go hand that to you.

Yeah, I think we could try something like this.

I feel like I'm constantly making things.

And I do feel like I have this ratio that I've worked out

where--I call it the sort of 80/20 ratio,

where 80% of what I make is kind of crap,

but somehow I have to produce it to get to the 20%,

which is successful.

[laughs] It's kind of like rubble,

but not really. [chuckles]

- Did you all buy the fabric this color?

- Yeah, so this is, um, chroma key fabric, the green screen.

I've been gravitating to working with chroma key,

which is this awful, acid color.

I'm standing in front of a green chroma key screen.

Anything that you ph--uh, photograph or shoot

in front of this screen,

you can put in any type of backdrop,

you can create a fantasy scene.


[camera shutter snaps]

And so, thinking about both politics and social strife

and everything that's kind of permeated

and saturated everything,

you know, now it's just this kind of constant

in our backgrounds.

You know, what does that mean to then use chroma key

as the literal subject instead of ignoring it?

All right. Wanna grab that one, Durham?

So, I became a U.S. citizen when I was 26 years old.

Despite having lived here since I was three,

I had to kind of make that decision,

and then go through the process of, um, the citizenship test.

All right, I am an...

I was thinking a lot about a 1942 photograph

taken by Dorothea Lange.

And she had taken a photograph of an Oakland storefront

where a Japanese American had a business there,

and upon the notification for Japanese internment,

he had put up a sign in the window

that just proclaimed "I am an American."

Um, let's do the scrunching.

The idea that citizenship can be given and also taken away

was something that really interested me.

Because I--I do feel like there's been a lot a reckoning

with people having to struggle

with what it means to be an American today.

Like, what do we stand for?

What can we become?

[cell phone snaps]

My current studio is located

in a really industrial part of the Bay.

It overlooks San Francisco, actually.

So, just looking out over the water,

you can see it at a distance.

You know, I grew up in that city.

I relocated to Oakland four years ago,

because I couldn't afford to stay in San Francisco anymore.

You know, the Bay area can be a really wonderful

kind of fermenting space for artists.

Not because it's easy to live here,

'cause it's not easy to live here,

but there are ways that artists can create community

and spaces for themselves here.

[overlapping chatter]

If we're to look at the complexity

of our contemporary culture,

our political moment,

you know, our lived realities,

I want my work to be as complicated as well.

That there isn't just one way to look at it, you know,

that depending on your perspective,

you will see it a different way.

And I also want it to inhabit contradictions.

All right. Fierce.

And so, you know, looking at images of protests,

we created these composite characters.

And so they're fictions.

Black-clad individuals are usually associated with,

you know, a kind of very direct action.

Is it a character that one finds problematic,

or is it something that might elicit even,

you know, some empathy?

There's a portrait of someone covered

in a very sheer gray-and-white checkerboard pattern.

The portrait is of a person who is undocumented.

It's a difficult thing for me to talk about, actually,

because given the state of

our contemporary, uh, political situation,

you know, that person could be taken at any minute.

Depending on how you read that image,

it's about either the removal

or about their protection.

One really important possibility for art

is that it is a recording device, you know.

I mean, it's a subjective one, but it's--it's a device

that somehow through an individual

or a group of individuals

processes a situation in the world,

and then creates a subjective viewpoint of that.

As evidence.

I do not think at all that my work, in and of itself,

is actually gonna change the system.

What I'm interested in, though, is somehow reflecting

a possibility.

[overlapping chatter]

What I'm doing is kind of like absorbing and processing

the world around me,

and it's becoming political.

I--I don't think I have a choice anymore.

It's just my reality.

[stirring music]

- I like to make work out in the world.

I find it endlessly fascinating.

And I find that I could never invent

the incredible things that happen.

And I love going places or having experiences

that are not completely within my control.

Melissa? - Yeah.

- I'm right here. - Feeling good?

- Yeah, how are you? - Great.

- Good. - Great.

- Will you move the, um...

Yeah, move that around a little bit.

- Did you know this is Revlon?

And this is what they actually wore in the '50s.

It's called, um...

- Hold on. Let me see. [grunts]

Just a moment.

I will figure this freaking thing out.

Sorry, you were saying?

- This is what the movie stars in the '50s actually did wear.

It's called Cherries in the Snow by Revlon.

And I wear this. I love it.

They still make it. - [laughs] Let me see.

I met Melissa when I was working in Hollywood,

making photographs.

She was or--and is a Marilyn Monroe impersonator.

Where are you? Um...

Okay, I'm gonna go under this way.

We've known each other now for ten years.

What era Marilyn are we doing?

- We are doing, um, "Let's Make Love."

- It's just been this improvisational,

whatever she wants to film.

And we've become extremely close.

You know, based around making something together.

Ooh, hold that mirror there. It looks good.

I'm trying to get your... your eyes in here.

Okay, so...

[rousing music]

So often the picture can be a gesture,

in a way, of love.

Okay, okay, go a little to your left.

But it's also about being seen.

I'm from Arlington, Massachusetts,

about 15 minutes outside of Boston.

I think I was maybe eight years old,

and my grandmother gave me a camera.

I immediately

fell in love with observing the world.

[melancholy electric guitar music]

So, when I moved West,

the first thing that struck me

was just the quality of the light.

And so I--so I wandered. I just wanted to wander.

I wanted to walk around with a camera and kind of explore.

I never wanted to just photograph people

that were unaware.

It has always very much been about

my wanting to photograph people

who are interested in being photographed.

The light was bright and illuminating everything,

including the incredible suffering here.

You know, formally, I was interested in

a degree of abstraction,

of really stripping away all the extra stuff,

and only leaving what was absolutely essential.

And for me, they've become like a family album,

remembering each one of these people,

and what we talked about.

I always imagine them as dissident soldiers,

you know, where they demanded attention,

where you could not avoid regarding them.

[train horn blaring]

[blade swishes]

I think often that there might be a perception

that the artist is the author,

when in fact it is so much more collaborative,

when in fact people have very strong ideas.

[ambient music]

And in particular when I-- when I met Nicole

and started photographing Nicole,

she was the most fun, the most challenging.

At one point we'd been photographing for a while,

we were very close, and she said, "You know,

"I don't know, I just think your pictures

"are a little weird, you know, a little boring.

"Can we make some real pictures?"

And, I said, "Well, yeah."

And I said, "I'll just lock off the frame

"and do whatever you want."

She got naked and was kind of imitating

these provocative poses,

but then almost doing violence to them.

There was, uh, a desire

to have some of that glamour or, uh, sex appeal

or whatever, and then she rejected it at the same time.

And I thought,

This is closer to what I feel as a woman.

I mean we're talking about what's beautiful.

That's beautiful. That is raw.

That's generous.

And her

allowing herself to be vulnerable

is actually a strength.

I'm always drawn to more difficult material.

My best friend growing up,

she ended up having a lot of problems

with--with drug abuse and homelessness,

and the last time I saw her alive,

she told me,

"You know, people don't want to look at me.

"I know I don't exist anymore."

Um, that people avert their eyes.

"I'm not even a person. I'm a junkie."

And as time has gone on,

the people that I've photographed,

or the places I've gone have been completely overlooked.

I'd been thinking for a long time about making a film,

or how to make a film,

because the circumstances of

making my photographs are, in a way,

almost more important than the pictures themselves,

or as important.

- What's in your hair? - In my hair?

- I've been thinking a lot about,

how can I represent or convey a person's energy,

sense of humor, stories, what have you.

There's a lot that a photograph can do.

But it can't do that.

- ♪ I've made some bad decisions ♪

♪ In my life

♪ Oh, oh

♪ But it could get better

- This place is, uh...

It's really something else, man.

- Well, The Nine's the name of a street.

It's the local name for South Ninth Street

in the Central Valley, Modesto, California.

[ambient music]

Everyone shares, [stammers] you know, a struggle.

And there's a candor and openness about that struggle.

[on TV] - It's plain old-fashioned.

Nobody says you have to like it.

That's the way it is.

I met a woman named Vanessa on The Nine,

and she introduced me to--

to some other people over time.

I asked them if they might be interested

in making a film together,

and they were really enthusiastic,

and I spent a long time hanging out,

seeing what would happen,

getting to know people really well,

seeing what would unfold.

[acoustic guitar music]

I didn't want to make a movie that was sensationalizing

lives that are already quite victimized,

but instead showing how mundane,

how ordinary, how in fact recognizable

their lives were.

- My mama used to say every hair on my head was counted.

- When I met Kiki,

it was really vital that she tell her own story.

- She said, "Don't be afraid.

"You're worth more than hundreds of sparrows."

I don't know, though.

Even one sparrow is holy to me.

Let's eat. Come on, babies.

[chatter on television]

- I'm not a journalist.

I saw us as making a film together.

[ambient music]

I worked with her for five years.

Spent so much time with Kiki.

And at the same time, I am watching her

hurting herself.

And then I get to go home

to my house in Berkeley.

And what does that mean?

Do I have the right to be there?

It's--yeah, it's--it's difficult,

and it raises a lot of questions.

I struggle with wanting to do more.

Probably feeling a bit guilty,

and at the same time really valuing my friendships.

I don't know, it's--it's-- you know, the fact is,

it's complicated and it's not resolvable,

and yet to avoid it

is sort of becoming complicit

in--in not seeing.

[stirring music]

Is this where we went last time?

- Um, yeah, this is the same route we went.

I think what we should do is wait and get the sunset.

It's rather short, the dance.

- Right now I'm kind of at the beginning again.

And I have lots of ideas.

I torture myself 'cause I feel like

I never know where I'm going, but that's what's required.

- This is cool. I really like all of this.

- There are these repeated kinds of

relationships that I have,

which are about

an unexpected collaboration.

[whispers] Okay.

- What--what-- what does this look like?

- It's all beautiful.

Probably the most important part for me

is the leap of faith

that we both take to trust one another.

Life is a lot more interesting

than kind of remaining in my studio

or my little-- my little bubble.

- Yeah, you know, should we do the thing with the spotlight?

The--the car lights?

I guess I wanna be shaken out of complacency.

Think discomfort is a really important feeling,

and it might help you recognize

some of your own limitations in the way you see the world.

Or just the fact of other possibilities.

[laughs] I'm sorry. Hold on.

[ambient music]

- In the mid 1970s,

maybe a little earlier,

I had done a sculptural painting of a man,

and a collector went to a gallery and bought the work.

I wanted to meet him,

but the gallery didn't want me to meet him

'cause Lynn could be either male or female.

Somehow, he found out I was female,

and he f--returned the work because he said that women

weren't good investments.

Women artists didn't make a good investment.

Uh, he was wrong. [laughs]

[calm electronic music]

I did start out doing painting and drawing.

And then moved into sculpture.

Then sculpture with sound.

...Trying to remember who we are.



artificial intelligence,

and computer based work.

To me, they're all the same.

You know, you take a number of things and put them together.

I do work that confronts where we are in society.

[sculpture whirs]

I came to the Bay Area

to go to graduate school at Berkeley.

[rock 'n' roll music]

It was the era of the hippies,

Allen Ginsberg, and that kind of radical thought.

And being a girl

from Orthodox Jewish family in Cleveland,

it was just really opening your mind

to the fact that you don't have to do what you're told.

[calm jazz music]

I think that the early challenges

were getting somebody to show my work.

I remember walking the streets of Berkeley

during that time, and I thought,

Well, who needs a museum to tell you

whether you're doing art?

So with my friend Eleanor Coppola,

we opened up rooms in a hotel,

and people could check in at the desk, get a key.

Eleanor staged in her room a man who lived there.

I created fictional characters who might've lived there,

and bought props from around that neighborhood

to redefine who those characters could have been.

It was a way of creating art in the world

that went beyond the walls that existed.

It lasted nearly a year,

and finally somebody, went at two in the morning.

And I had wax body parts in there,

and people thought that it could have been a murder,

and called the police.

The police came in and took everything.

That was the end of that.

Glasses from the '70s.

- [laughs] - Big lenses.

Here we go.

When I was in the room at the Dante Hotel,

I had artifacts of somebody who could have lived there.

[ambient music]

I thought, Well, what if this woman,

this fictional character, could be liberated,

live in real time and real space?

And that was the beginning of creating Roberta Breitmore.

So I would go out and dress as Roberta,

with different kinds of makeup, as a blonde.

And with a lot of things about her

that were very different from myself.

Roberta did things that any normal, single,

broke woman would do.

And she came to San Francisco, she needed a roommate

to afford her rent, so she put ads in the local newspapers.

Roberta went to a psychiatrist.

She had a particular walk. She had particular gestures.

She had a language.

Roberta was able to get a bank account.

She was able to get credit cards, which I couldn't.

She was much more real,

ha--had more of a verifiable history than I did.

I didn't think that Roberta would be

a long-term performance.

I don't even think performance was a word in those days.

I don't know what she was.

She was an invention in real life, in society.

And she lasted almost ten years,

from 1972 to 1979.

[film projector whirring]

I think if I had moved to New York

to become an artist, as many people did,

I would not do the work I do now.

But because I live in the Bay Area

where you breathe technology,

the digital landscape here has changed the entire world.

And it's not insignificant

that television was invented here.

I think that we've become kind of a society

of--of screens,

of different layers that keep us from knowing the truth,

as if the truth is, uh, almost unbearable,

and too much for us to, uh-- to deal with,

just like our feelings.

So we deal thing--with things through replication,

and through copying, through screens,

through simulation, through facsimiles,

and through, uh, fiction, and through faction.

[experimental electronic music]

[upbeat music]

I think that there is not a central answer to whether

technology is utopian or dystopian.

I think it depends on humans and how they use it.

[echoing chatter]

A lot of my work is interactive

in that it implicates viewers into making choices.

[experimental electronic music]

Interactivity in these pieces

meant dealing with the possibilities in technology

that existed at the time.

So when "Lorna" was made, I used an interactive LaserDisc.

[water bubbling]

I was afraid of everything.

So you think you know her story.

Well, good luck.

'Cause you're all wrong.

Lorna's agoraphobic, she's afraid to go out.

The reason she's afraid is because media

projects all kinds of images of fear.

And all she does is watch television.

And you control what you see,

and in doing so, you become implicated in Lorna's life

and control her future.

[foreboding music]

Do you wanna put the hat down by the side?

Yeah, good.

- Do you want me leaning in any way, or just--

- No. Just watching.

- In terms of drama, I'll just shoot something.

- Okay.

This work, "VertiGhost," uses, in fact,

much of my history.

That looks beautiful. - It looks more like it.

- The premise was to do something that had to do

with the Fine Arts Museum.

And I--I remembered that Alfred Hitchcock shot

a major scene from "Vertigo" there.

In the original film, the character Madeleine

would go to the museum and look at the portrait

of Carlotta, who is a distant relative of hers,

who had died and who suffered

from, um, mental illness.

Okay, Yuli, you can come.

You know, they're both stories of compulsion

about identity,

and copies, and copies of copies,

and not knowing who you are.

Now I'm gonna have you walk around the bench

and sit exactly opposite than you are now.

And in mine, it tells kind of the haunting story

of that history.

And telling the history releases

the ghost that we keep hidden.

- Camera, please. And action.

- Putting the exhibition together for "VertiGhost"

was a total act of trust,

and improvising, uh, what we would do.

- Three and four.

- I like to collaborate.

I have this joke in my studio

that I'm kind of like the idiot savant,

'cause I can't do anything.

So I come with an idea,

and then everybody else knows how to do certain parts of it.

And eventually it gets done.

- [laughs]

- So, um, this has been printed

on the back of this, and it's Plexiglas.

And we took the original image of Carlotta

and we're gonna put the camera on the wall

in back of the eyes

so that it picks up anybody walking through the room.

- I'm sure it's gonna be quite startling.

- It's so bizarre. - It really is.

- [laughs]

- [laughs] But are you happy with it?

- I am. Thank God. - Oh, good.

That's the most important thing.

- You know, you never know if these things are gonna work.


This is the way it works.

Somebody sits on the bench.

There's a bouquet of flowers that has sensors in it.

That turns the camera on in the painting.

The painting captures the image of the person

who's looking at the painting.

Puts them in the 3D box to the De Young Museum,

which is at a different location.

It's in Golden Gate Park.

And inserts the viewer there.

So it kind of ties all of them together,

almost like a double helix between the two buildings.

I think that I'm asking viewers to consider

what it real, what isn't real,

why we need to imitate something,

and the credibility of the things around us.

I think it's great that finally

my work has become part of a cultural history.

That finally I'm not in debt. [laughs]

For the first time ever.

I think I'm really lucky.

I got a lot of freedom from being unknown,

where I could do anything I wanted to.

And now it's too late to change.


[lighthearted music]

- Well, I like painting. I like doing clay.

I like all of my artwork.

- This is one of my square drawings that I've done.

- This is a drawing right here.

It makes you feel good.

And I show my inspiration.

- My name is Jackie,

and I'm gonna take you on a tour.


I show you, there's a ceramics class.

This is the wood crafts right here.

And they're sewing right here.

What you sewing, D'Lisa?

- My magic rope. - Oh, okay, okay.

Her magic rope. Okay.

And that's a teacher right here.

How you doing?

- Art's a great equalizer

that transcends language,

that transcends culture, that transcends disability.

Creative Growth is about artistic expression

as a form of self-empowerment,

as a form of aesthetic development,

as a form of saying, "This is who I am in the world."

[ambient music]

- Blue is cold and yellow's warm.

- How do you know when you're reaching in there

what--what you're getting out?

- I can tell by the feel. - The feel?

- Yeah, the compartments, you know?

- So what does the--the feel of green, what is that like?

- Green feels like freezing. Red is hot.

- So you're working with freezing and hot right now?

- Yes.

- Monica has been fascinated with color

ever since she was really a wee--a wee child.

And I think losing her sight

opened up a different connection

to the world of light and shadow and color.

- Do you have a favorite foam shape to work on?

- I like--I like the logs.

The cubes. - Mm-hmm.

- The little tiny cubes and the spheres.

- Logs, tiny cubes, and spheres.

- And the cakes too.

- Yeah, the cakes turned out great.

- Yep.

- I see her becoming more and more dedicated to her art

and it seems to fulfill her in deeper and deeper ways,

and for that I feel so happy, you know,

because she has so much to offer the world.

- There's you. - Is that...

- Yeah. - Oh.

- Yes, um, my name is Rosena Finister.

- Whoo, whoo!

[cheers and applause]

I'm from a--a small town in Louisiana

where all the poor people live at.

That's where I'm from.

This is the first type of art that I started doing.

- Creative Growth currently serves 162 artists

in our studio every week.

When people come to the Creative Growth studio,

for the most part they've never made art before

in their lives, and we kind of welcome that

because it allows us to see who they are.

And we--you know, there's no right or wrong.

We don't teach in a traditional way.

We say, you know, "What would you like to do?

"What are you thinking about? What did you dream about?

"What color do you like? Tell us your story."

[calm jazz music]

- I've been coming here since 1992.

I like to paint. I like to draw.

I like painting some people,

like, different people.

And stars.

Movie stars.

There are wholesome people.

Wholesome encounters.

- What do you like to look at? - I like that one.

- This one? - Yeah.

- Look at that one, what this one is.

- Yeah. - This is what?

What would you call this? The name of this painting.

- "The Black Inner Limits."

- William is just such a brilliant artist.

And look at this beautiful piece.

You remember making this? - I remember.

- That's what? "Praise Frisco"? - "Praise Frisco," yeah.

- He envisions through his work a utopian reality

that he creates for us all to live in.

A world where people who have died have come back to life.

Places where bad neighborhoods are safe.

Where his family is happy. Where the world is peaceful.

And he believes that the painting

will be colorful enough to make that a reality.

- Mm.

Riding on a spaceship.

Wholesome encounters spaceship.

It's not gonna be no more evils,

no more aliens, no more monsters,

no more evils.


- Creative Growth is really a Bay Area story.

[lighthearted music]

[overlapping chatter]

The disability rights movement in the early 1970's,

Creative Growth really comes from that.

- Ho--how big the drawing's gonna be, the pictures?

- So during that time, people with disabilities

in institutions were suddenly deinstitutionalized.

So artists came together in Oakland

and put paint on a table and said,

"Well these people are going to come here.

"Creativity is a path forward."

- [laughs]

- Pencil for Colleen.

- I'm just doing a tree right now.

- And people with disabilities can communicate

and be a vital part of society.


Part of the Creative Growth plan when you come here

to make art is that we represent you

and you show your work in the gallery,

and if the work sells, the artist gets half the money.

Creative Growth, the non-profit,

gets half the money.

We buy the supplies

and support the artists with that money.

If you came to Creative Growth,

you could buy something for $10

and you could buy something for $75,000.

It's exactly like the contemporary art world.

As an artist's work develops

and it gets into collections and museums,

and is highly sought after, the prices go up.

And Creative Growth artists follow that same path.

Judith Scott is one of the most well-known

Creative Growth artists.

[stirring music]

As an artist, Judith Scott transcended

this difficult situation,

where she was separated from her family

and institutionalized for almost 40 years.

She was deaf and it wasn't known,

so she never developed language and she was isolated.

So in her 40s she comes to Creative Growth.

And her method

to talk to us

was art.

The process was very important to her,

and the result of that process

were these sculptures with hidden objects,

and accumulated, protected things that were sacred

or important to her.

I think Judith Scott's role in contemporary art

is that she's opened the door for a lot of people

to see who an artist can be.

- [humming]

[ambient music]

Light the bulbs 'round, bring the wrong map, right?

- Right. - Pull it gently.

- You know, Dan's work is based on words.

He builds literally words on top of each other

to form his communication with the world.

- Want me to pull it down? - Yeah.


Pull it gently, right?

- Right.

- Book about kitten, electric. Go together, right?

- Right.

- We still don't know a lot about autism,

but there's this big barrier there.

There's this person behind this barrier,

and he can't communicate

in a way that you and I can communicate with each other.

And to put himself down on this paper,

that's Danny's opportunity to talk to people.

- Dan's work has definitely progressed

in the years he's been here.

Dan became more and more interested

in the graphic qualities of the letters,

of how to use paint, how to use the brush,

how to work on massive pieces of paper.

He's very sophisticated, and he's a colorist.

He's clear about what he wants to do.

You know, and I think when you see that urgency in his work,

it's because it's so important to him,

and because it's so important for us

to know who he is,

that he has thoughts like we do,

that he's smart, that he's not to be dismissed.

[rousing music]

Dan Miller is in the Venice Biennial this year,

which is this amazing achievement

for him as an artist.

It happens to be in the same room

at the Venice Biennial as Judith Scott.

So here are these two colleagues,

their work looking right at each other,

in a pavilion of contemporary artists

who are using color in a powerful way.

Not a pavilion of disability,

not a pavilion of the self-taught,

not a pavilion of the freak show.

It's presented as an artist making a statement

about the world today and that's what they both did.

They both have, like every artist,

a history that informs who they are in the world today.

We shouldn't need to exist.

Dan should have gotten this in school.

Or William should have had this opportunity

his whole life.

It shouldn't be that Creative Growth

has to be here for those people.

I'm thrilled that we're here,

and we love our artists, but they should have access

to creative outlets.

It's a human rights issue, to be diminished somehow,

to be seen as not creative.

When those prejudices go away,

then our artists have the same potential to lead the culture,

to be a part of our world,

to inform me of who I am as a person.

Look at all these people,

who--they're all coming back to new lives?

- Yeah, their families.

- And what kind of lives are they going to have now?

- They're gonna have good lives.

- Uh-huh. - Gonna have good lives.

- Uh-huh.

[ambient music]

female narrator: To learn more about "Art 21"

and our educational resources,

please visit us online at

"Art in the 21st Century," Season Nine

is available on DVD.

To order visit

or call 1-800-PLAYPBS.

This program is also available for download on iTunes.


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