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Paint your dreams: IUPUI student with cerebral palsy to graduate with MFA in painting

May 3, 2018

A middle-school art class changed Herron School of Art student Johnson Simon’s life forever. Born with cerebral palsy, Simon grew up being teased and ridiculed by his peers. His first use of a paintbrush, though, transformed him and changed his outlook on life.

Herron School of Art student Johnson Simon laughs in front of one of his paintings.
Simon laughs in front of one of his paintings.Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications
Herron School of Art student Johnson Simon working on a painting in his studio.
Simon working on a painting in his studio.Photo by Liz Kaye, IU Communications

Wowing his teachers, Simon defied the odds, graduating from Western Michigan University with a B.A. in fine arts. This month, he will graduate from the Herron School of Art at IUPUI with a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting. Learn more about Johnson Simon in IUPUI’s latest #InspireIUPUI video.

Description of the following video:

[Simon speaks: I am a painting and MFA student at the Herron School of Arts. I grew up as a kid who had cerebral palsy.]

[Video: Johnson Simon is in his art studio and putting on a paint suit over his clothes.]

[Simon speaks: Being different from my peers was really difficult. I used to get picked on and teased on.]

[Video: Simon paints a picture in his studio.]

[Simon speaks: I was put in the wrong classes. I understand I have cerebral palsy, but my brain was fully functional.]

[Video: Simon appears on camera.]

[Simon speaks: I learned how to work to say “Hey! I am somebody, I do belong in society. I’m not just a throwaway kid!”]

[Video: Simon continues to paint in his studio and appears on camera.] 

[Simon speaks: It wasn’t until middle school, I took my first real art class, and we had a painting assignment, and this is my first time picking up a paintbrush. I did my first painting, and my teacher said “Wow Johnson! This is good!”]

[Video: Several of Simon’s paintings appear on camera.]

[Simon speaks: So ever since I was in middle school, I always wanted to be an artist. This is what I am meant to do.]

[Video: Simon paints a Jaguar picture in honor of IUPUI.]

[Simon speaks: I wanted to go to grad school, and I went to a grad school fair. I walked to the IUPUI Herron School of Art table. I showed them my portfolio, and they were so amazed, and they were willing to give me an opportunity.]

[Video: Simon continues to paint Jaguar image, and then appears on camera.]

[Simon speaks: I was really amazed because, a lot of schools, they would be like, “Well we want you, but we know we’re going to have to do a lot of accommodations for you.”]

[Video: Simon is in his studio, wearing headphones, painting.]

[Simon speaks: One thing I wanted to say: Do not allow someone to tell you who you are. In the inside you know who you are, and you know what you are capable of. If you have a vision and a dream, go for it. Hold onto that dream.]

[Video: Simon appears on camera, smiling. Continual shots of him painting in his studio.]

[Simon speaks: My name is Johnson Simon, and this is Inspire IUPUI! Yeah!]

[Video: Simon appears on camera.]

[Video: Closing outro appears on screen. A clip of IUPUI’s University Library, with the Indianapolis skyline in the background, appears. The IU trident appears on the top, with text that says Inspire IUPUI.]

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