A story of triumph to remind us that art and therapy have a place in the world as one.
“God may have closed my door, but my window was left open, allowing me to make a living, and even feel happy and content…”
Huang Guofu’s path to becoming one of the world’s most renowned painters is a classic underdog story, but something about this quote shook me to my core. Something told me that this simple man—thrust into a complicated world as a boy with a clear disadvantage—has played the cards he’s been dealt with grace and diligence. I could relate to and respect his will to overcome and rise above just by the sheer fact that he paints masterpieces with his feet and mouth. That’s what sucked me into the story to begin with. When I watched the video below however, my heart did a little dance—because someone finally put into words and images what I’ve been thinking all along. Art is therapy. Therapy can be art.
In fact, the video mentions that many disabled people in China—approximately 60 million and growing—are turning to painting as a way to harness the emotional effects of their disability. Guofu’s work is displayed in art exhibitions throughout Southwest China, alongside nine other physically challenged Chinese artists who are also double amputees.
I watched the video several times more before I began writing this piece. I found myself retracing the steps of my own journey. Not only that, but I started thinking about my place in the world of art as a writer with a disability, and how the arts have paved a way for the likes of Rick Allen, Bill Auvenshine, and Ritchie Collins Moore.
Their skills in their respective trades prove that the essence, beauty and significance of art hasn’t faded in the digital age. More importantly, I think it speaks to the fact that disabled individuals need an outlet for expression and venting their emotions—just like the rest of the world.
I’d also begun to realize Guofu’s story and life’s work had a heartbeat as well as multiple layers, each with connection to China’s longstanding history with art. That initial sense of excitement I felt when I first watched that video suddenly came back. This time, it was because I’d come to another realization.
I chuckled at the thought of how writing started out as just a hobby for me, and how it’s become my own personal form of meditation as an adult. Not only that, but it’s also a subtle way of letting others know this: I exist.
There’s always been that exterior motive—and I think that holds true for anyone with a disability—and with it comes more pressure because people tend to want to define you by your disability, and you want a way to change their way of thinking.
It ties in with the notion that yes, Guofu is doing something he loves for a living, but he’s also doing exactly what I find myself trying to do with my own work: give people a fresh pair of eyes.
There’s always a yearning to want to come into your own and prove to the world that you’re more than what you appear to be. I think that happened by default, both in my and Guofu’s cases, but overcoming the fear that comes with it can be therapy in itself.
I think I’d still be running into that wall of people who aren’t willing to change their minds and their ways if I’d chosen to do something else with my life. That in turn makes me wonder where Guofu and all those great contributors of our global society would be if they hadn’t taken their respective journey and honed their craft.
Most importantly, such stories make many ask: “If these individuals accomplished as much as they have with such disabilities, what does that say for the able-bodied who let the world pass them by?” Watch on. Enjoy: