How Stuttering Can Be Expressed As Art – Madeline Wahl

Madeline WahlAbout the Author:

Madeline Wahl is a writer and editor. Her writing has been published in Reader’s Digest, HuffPost, The Stuttering Foundation, The Mighty, and McSweeney’s, among others. You can learn more and reach out to her on her website.

Over the years on my journey with stuttering, I’ve written about my personal experiences with stuttering on a variety of topics from what it feels like for me to stutter alongside why I’m thankful to be a person who stutters. Recently, I expanded on my own writing and dove into photography and other artistic ways of expressing my thoughts as a person who stutters. I hope that more people who stutter feel compelled to share their story in whichever way they so choose, via personal essays with the written word, in songs and music, as paint on canvas, or in their own photography projects as well. People who stutter shouldn’t have to hide behind their stutter if they want to express themselves. Instead, taking the courageous step forward to creatively expressing themselves might just be the way to help more people who stutter connect, not only with themselves, but within the greater stuttering community and the rest of the world.

For most of my life, I expressed my thoughts on stuttering with the spoken word. In my mid-twenties, I began writing personal essays about stuttering. And then, in my early thirties, I started experimenting with words alongside photography in my photo series Physical Body: Invisible Stutter, with photography by Zoë Lintzeris and published with The Stuttering Foundation.

I never realized that stuttering could be expressed as an art form, because I never realized that stuttering is an art form. Stuttering doesn’t need to be portrayed so negatively like it so often is in movies, television shows, and the media. Stuttering is a speech disorder; it’s not a negative character flaw. I created the photo series to showcase the positive aspects of stuttering often ignored in everyday conversation. Stuttering doesn’t need to be divisive. Instead, it can bring people together. This is a stuttering community, after all.

Whenever I would have an idea for a new personal essay or a photography series, I would wonder: Is this too much? Is this too personal? Am I the right person to express this? In the end, the acknowledgment came that the only thing holding me back was fear. I worried about what other people would think, and I worried about my place as a person who stutters within the stuttering community.

Growing up, I never talked about stuttering. I thought it was something that had to remain hidden in the depths of who I was as a person, never to rise up and see the light of day. I never wanted to talk about the words which emerged elongated or broken up into syllabic pieces in conversations. I would ignore each and every stutter and hope that the other person would do the same. I thought that by ignoring my stutter, other people would, too.

Now, however, I’ve broken free from those restrictive thoughts, tossed the shackles of fluent conversation away, and have instead welcomed my stutter home. The more I wrote about stuttering, the more I set my words free. The more I got to know and became friends with people who stuttered, and the more conversations I had where I stuttered openly and freely, the more at peace and at home I felt. The more I creatively expressed my experiences with stuttering through various mediums, the more I soared toward the sky and defrosted any stagnant and outdated ideas that had taken hold within. The iceberg of shame, anger, and fear slowly thawed. I now continue to share the most vulnerable parts of myself out into the world.

What does stuttering actually look like? A headshot of the author of the piece. Can I accept my stutter? A rendering of the iceberg commonly described in stuttering. Am I invisible in conversations? A silhouette of the author of the piece

I experimented with creative expression by working with a photographer and I’ve realized that for me, this is only the beginning of honing my voice. I have found such creative freedom by first working with words in writing and then expanding to include photographs. What will the next medium be? Using oil on canvas to showcase stuttering as an impressionist painting? Designing clothes with stuttering emblazoned on the front in various fonts and fragments? Playing staccato sounds and rhythms on wind instruments?

Stuttering can be expressed creatively not only in books, television shows, and movies, but also in paintings, drawings, murals, photography projects, music, and so much more. Through creating, I have learned there is no limit to what you can create as a person who stutters. I truly hope to see more creative works by people who stutter. The world is your creative oyster.

I’ve come to realize that each person’s stutter, just like their personality, is unique. I believe that if a person who stutters has an idea for a creative project, painting, canvas, song, or any other expressive art, then it needs to be created. The world thrives on creativity. It’s time for people who stutter to express their ideas in whichever way they so choose. The time to create is now.

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Comments

How Stuttering Can Be Expressed As Art – Madeline Wahl — 14 Comments

  1. Great essay. I liked the idea that “if a person who stutters has an idea for a creative project, painting, canvas, song, or any other expressive art, then it needs to be created.” This could go a long way toward showing the highly individualistic nature of stuttering.

  2. Madeline,

    Your writing has my mind whirling. There are so many ways for people to express their voice and feelings without spoken word, and I think you are exactly right in saying stuttering can be expressed in creative ways. I feel like this could be a great outlet for many others no matter their speech disorder, and I would love to borrow your ideas of using creative mediums as a way to share experience with my future clients.

    Kylee, SLP graduate student

    • Hi Kylee,

      Thank you so much for reading! Yes, please feel free to borrow these ideas of using creative mediums with your future clients! There’s so much that can be expressed as art——why not stuttering?

      Sincerely,

      Madeline

  3. Indeed.
    Artistic expression is a point of leverage for all of us to express ourselves. And 1000%, those of us SLPs should explore how we can integrate opportunities for people to expres themselves through creative arts. (And its really doable.)

    • Yes! I grew up playing the clarinet and never realized the similarities that those short, staccato notes in music can have with those shortened syllables in speaking. There are so many ways people who stutter can express themselves in creativity beyond words. Agreed, it’s so doable!

      Thank you so much for reading!

      Sincerely,

      Madeline

  4. This was beautiful. Thanks for sharing. I think your artwork is so powerful because it connects people emotionally. I may not know how it feels to stutter myself, but I found myself relating to your beautiful photos and the imagery your words created. Stuttering is not an area of shame, and can be beautiful. I think it so important for each person who stutters to find ways to share their experiences and thoughts and feelings and you suggested many diverse ways to do that; “Stuttering can be expressed creatively not only in books, television shows, and movies, but also in paintings, drawings, murals, photography projects, music, and so much more.” Thank you again for being willing to be vulnerable in your writing and photos.

  5. Madeline, I found your piece to be extremely inspirational and thought-provoking. Expressing stuttering as an art form is a fantastic idea that would allow more people to see the positive aspects of stuttering. What motivated you to begin expressing your thoughts and feelings about stuttering through different art forms?

  6. “ I’ve come to realize that each person’s stutter, just like their personality, is unique. I believe that if a person who stutters has an idea for a creative project, painting, canvas, song, or any other expressive art, then it needs to be created.”

    Spot on. Each and every one of us is on our own journey, our own experiences which shapes our perspectives, feelings, etc. so why wouldn’t our creative expressions be unique as well? It’s worth repeating — spot on.

  7. Hi Madeline,

    I loved Physical Body: Invisible Stutter; it gave me chills. Your writing is powerful. I especially loved, “My body is the vessel of my words, and sometimes it breaks down before I am able to speak, leaving the words I want to say trapped within.” I am a Speech-Language Pathology graduate student, and reading your post and Physical Body: Invisible Stutter has opened up my eyes. I am currently in a Fluency class where my professor stutters. I am grateful to learn from someone within the stuttering community. I feel like I have learned so much, the good and the bad. I have realized stuttering is not just prolongations and blocks but something so much deeper and complex. I am thankful for your post. It changes my perspective as someone who does not stutter. Art is something I want to incorporate into my practice once I am out in the real world, in all mediums. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Hi there!
    I really enjoyed reading about how you have incorporated art and stuttering. I am new to the stuttering community, as I am a graduate speech-language pathology student and this topic is new to me. I would love to hear more about what made you start combining photography and stuttering. Was there an ah-ha moment that pushed you to start or did someone influence you? I love how you talked about this being a positive way to showcase aspects of stuttering!

  9. Hi Madeline,

    I am so happy to see this contribution. I love the way you’ve chosen to see stuttering as a visual art form. And included your own photos.

    I think this is so empowering because I know many people who stutter, particularly women, do NOT like to see themselves stuttering. They perceive stuttering as ugly, so others must see visual representation of stuttering the same way. Ugly, shameful, not worthy of being seen.

    I remember I did a practice interview with a young woman who put her hand over her mouth when she stuttered. She wasn’t even aware she was doing it. I met with her 3 or 4 times and we worked on her getting comfortable with allowing others to see her stutter. When she did that and finally relaxed, she was much more present in interviews and was able to radiate her strengths and enthusiasm for jobs. She got a dream job a few months later.

    Again, thank you for encouraging people who stutter to show ourselves.

    Pam

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