"The drawing that started this discussion.
It is a working drawing that would go towards a completed work
and so it isn't finished to the standard I would normally expect."
I'm an artist and I discovered BENT following some experimental
drawings I was doing for a sculpture. I had succeeded with the
figure I was working on (above) to the point of not knowing where
to put his right arm. Up? Extended? Folded? I ended up drawing
it shortened and straight out: in effect, a stump. I then realised
that without intending to do so I had turned this figure into
had no problem with this, but it made me question how other people
would react to it, as a drawing or a sculpture. This made me look
at some other drawings I had near me and I wondered what the public
reaction would be had I also portrayed this attractive woman with
only one arm, or that good looking guy with no legs. I began to
question the whole concept of disabled people in art. An Internet
search brought me to this Webzine and in particular to a January
2003 BENT/Disgaytalk forum titled Who
Thinks We're Sexy? Do We?
you have to understand that I've come to this as an able-bodied
sculptor. Although I am gay this dilemma for me had nothing to do
with sexuality: it's purely about aesthetics and what is and isn't
appropriate in art, and, more importantly, what is and isn't acceptable
to the viewing (and the buying) public.
of this this is applicable to both gay and disabled art. One of
the great paradoxes of life is that you can have a whole bookshelf
of Agatha Christie novels without being suspected of murderous intent,
but if you own just one gay novel your sexuality is automatically
in doubt. The portrayal of a naked male figure by a male artist
is immediately labelled as homoerotic and there is a similar effect
on any male owning such a picture. So where does the world stand
on artists and art portraying the disabled?
"Here is a completed drawing. You'll
notice how the right arm is finished vaguely ( a standard
art technique), whereas the execution of the right arm in
the first drawing is complete, as if the subject were disabled."
world admires the sculpture of Venus de Milo without her arms, but
what would be the reaction if the arms had been stumps? Would she
be as famous as she is? Would she be so admired? Would countless
reproductions have been made of her? And if not, why not? And would
it be difficult for an artist to even exhibit a drawing of a disabled
person in a mainstream gallery let alone sell it?
As I continued
to think about these questions, I was inspired to return to my drawing
of the figure with the stump or, rather, to try again. This time,
I drew the figure's right arm as neither an accident nor an afterthought,
but as an intentional stump. The result feels more convincing to
me than the first attempt.
"Here is my second try at depicting a
figure with a stump." -I.M.
an artist, I find that the human form, whether male or female, abled
or disabled, can be beautiful. (Note: I have to be honest here and
say that until I read the "Who Thinks We're Sexy" debate
I hadn't realised that disability could be a fetish the innocence
you feel at times like this can be quite humbling !!).
previous contributors have discussed the SMBD/Fetishist side of
disability aesthetics, I would like to throw in another couple of
questions. Firstly, and with consideration to "maimed beauty"
(as discussed in the BENT/Disgaytalk forum), is the portrayal of
disability in art (whether photography, painting, drawing, sculpture)
something that ought to be reserved for niche books, isolated exhibits,
the fetishist market? And secondly, can it become as acceptable
as any other subject of art? My own conclusion to the second question
is that it can, but not yet.
public attitudes to being gay have not been changed overnightthough
we are getting thereand so attitudes to the portrayal of the
disabled will not be immediately acceptable to all. This, of course,
is why we still need the niche books and exhibitions I guess, though
this isolationist approach has its drawbacks.
think part of the problem for the public at large is that as children
we all suffered the endless chastisement: "it is rude to stare,"
which left us as adults feeling uncomfortable when looking at disability
in any form. Moreover, we were not told that it is also rude
to avert our gaze, so most people choose to look away from disability,
not realising how insulting this can be. This negative attitude
is then applied to viewing disability in general, so any portrayal
of a disabled person, whether in art, advertising or whatever forum
is automatically, for some people, a subject of contention.
feel uncomfortable. They don't know how they are supposed to react,
so their behaviour becomes clumsy. If it's a choice of feeling discomfort
or avoiding the issue, most people will invariably choose the latter:
they don't want to be put on the spot, and you can't blame them
for that. Didn't all of us experience similar feelings before we
It would be great if we could create and display art without the
fact that the subject is gay or disabled being an issue. I welcome
readers' thoughts on this.
Text and drawings ©2003
Reproduction prohibited without premission of the artist.
Let us know what
you think of this BENT feature.
Marlow writes: "I'm
a professional sculptor in the UK. I have produced large and
small sculptures in stone, mainly to private and municipal commissions.
I've spent about three years exploring ceramics and have recently
moved back into stone, using alabaster."