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Down's syndrome, mental disability and famous American art

Mental illness and psychological problems have also been linked to creative abilities. Judith Scott was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome and became a ward of the state in 1950. Despite these mental and physical disabilities, Judith is the first artist with Down's Syndrome to have her art featured at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She also has work in permanent sculpture collections in New York City, Paris and London.

In addition to her intellectual disability, Judith also suffered from deafness, an affliction she suffered after catching scarlet fever which reduced her IQ to 30. Her passion for art began after she moved in with her twin sister who did not suffer any mental disability. Judith excelled in a fiber arts class, and created original, woven colorful sculpture. According to her sister, art gave Judith her confidence and purpose in the world. She worked 5 days a week for eighteen years and produced over 200 sculptures.

Judith spent 35 years of her life in an Ohio state institution. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, government institutions have been replaced by group homes and other communal care organizations. Judith was taken under legal guardianship by her sister, where she went to live after her release.

The artistic abilities and contributions of Judith Scott are a testament to the potential and ability of many individuals who suffer from physical and mental disability. Though traditional jobs may not be possible, Judith Scott is one of the countless individuals who have triumphed over their disability despite the potentially debilitating nature of a mental illness. Government support programs are necessary to support individuals with similar intellectual disabilities.

Source: The Atlantic, "Where Great Art Transcends Disability," Amelia Rachel Hokule'a Borofsky, Dec. 13, 2012

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