Sunday, October 19, 2008
Why do we have to BE anything?
Zack Kim playing "Fur Elise" by Ludwig von Beethoven
A friend and I had a rather long discussion this morning about her struggles to succeed as a deaf artist. She is one of the finest painters I know, but she has given up painting completely because of the lack of support she feels from a) the hearing world and b) the deaf community.
I feel despair when she talks like this. Why can't she just be an artist instead of a deaf artist? There are plenty of people who can't hear who don't identify as deaf. Most of them, in fact. And there are famous painters who were deaf but who did not present that as their face to the world. Musicians, too. I suppose it's everyone's choice how they want their story to go, but I wonder if we ever would have heard of Beethoven if he had insisted on being identified as a deaf musician? Maybe that's not fair. Beethoven was unique, and he probably would have been recognized as such no matter how he described himself. But maybe he would have wound up traveling with a circus.
Some deaf-themed art that I've seen seems really limited--viewing it is a one-note kind of experience. And some deaf artists produce work of astonishing beauty whether their theme is or is not specifically deaf-related.
Deafness is no freakin picnic. It leaves holes in one's experience of the world. I don't discount for a moment any deaf persons' wish to express their suffering and frustration through painting and drawing. But I think we all forget the universal thump. Just because somebody hears (and that's how human beings are made--to hear with their ears) does not mean they do not suffer deeply and cruelly from something else that they experience as cutting them off from society. At some places and in some times, having red hair would do this (witches! spawn of satan!). Would we then be expected to create and revere red-hair-themed art?