The Genius Of Disability

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating five disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

Episodes

EpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
01Al-ma'arri - Visionary Free Thinker20150105

Abul 'Ala Al-Ma'arri became visually impaired in childhood and went on to become the most famous poet in the Arab world, but is still barely known in Britain. He was born near Aleppo in the year 973. Although welcomed in the literary salons of Baghdad, al-Ma'arri became an ascetic, who avoided other people, and refused to sell his poetry.

Al-Ma'arri was notable as a religious sceptic; he deemed it a matter of geographical accident what faith people adopted, and rejected the idea that Islam had a monopoly on truth. He opposed all violence and killing, becoming a vegan and avoiding the use of animal skins in clothing and footwear. Al-Ma'arri is a distinguished, if rare, example of a rationalist in the Islamic world, and one who was writing half a millennium before the Enlightenment thinkers of the West such as Voltaire.

01The Genius of Disability: Al-Ma'arri - Visionary Free Thinker20150105

01The Genius of Disability: Al-Ma'arri - Visionary Free Thinker2015010520160418 (R3)

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating five disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

Abul 'Ala Al-Ma'arri became visually impaired in childhood and went on to become the most famous poet in the Arab world, but is still barely known in Britain. He was born near Aleppo in the year 973. Although welcomed in the literary salons of Baghdad, al-Ma'arri became an ascetic, who avoided other people, and refused to sell his poetry.

Al-Ma'arri was notable as a religious sceptic; he deemed it a matter of geographical accident what faith people adopted, and rejected the idea that Islam had a monopoly on truth. He opposed all violence and killing, becoming a vegan and avoiding the use of animal skins in clothing and footwear. Al-Ma'arri is a distinguished, if rare, example of a rationalist in the Islamic world, and one who was writing half a millennium before the Enlightenment thinkers of the West such as Voltaire.

02Bryan Pearce: What Would I Do If I Didn't Paint?20150106

Bryan Pearce, a painter from St Ives in Cornwall, was one of the very few people with learning disability who has achieved fame in their own right. He was born with the metabolic disorder Phenylketonuria. Today, all children are tested at birth for PKU, and if they have the genetic mutation, are placed on a special diet, and so grow up unaffected. In 1929, the condition was unknown, and as a result, Bryan Pearce experienced intellectual impairment and other health problems.

As a teenager, Bryan was encouraged by his mother and other artists to paint. His obvious talent meant that he attended the St Ives School of Painting during his twenties. Although he painted slowly, producing perhaps one picture a month, he had a long and very successful career, exhibiting throughout the UK. Bryan Pearce was limited in his ability to learn and communicate verbally. But alongside his deficits was a huge talent to see and communicate through art. As he said to his mother: "What would I do if I didn't paint? What would I do?"

Producer: Martin Williams.

02The Genius of Disability: Bryan Pearce - What Would I Do If I Didn't Paint?20150106

02The Genius of Disability: Bryan Pearce - What Would I Do If I Didn't Paint?2015010620160419 (R3)

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating five disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

Bryan Pearce, a painter from St Ives in Cornwall, was one of the very few people with learning disability who has achieved fame in their own right. He was born with the metabolic disorder Phenylketonuria. Today, all children are tested at birth for PKU, and if they have the genetic mutation, are placed on a special diet, and so grow up unaffected. In 1929, the condition was unknown, and as a result, Bryan Pearce experienced intellectual impairment and other health problems.

As a teenager, Bryan was encouraged by his mother and other artists to paint. His obvious talent meant that he attended the St Ives School of Painting during his twenties. Although he painted slowly, producing perhaps one picture a month, he had a long and very successful career, exhibiting throughout the UK. Bryan Pearce was limited in his ability to learn and communicate verbally. But alongside his deficits was a huge talent to see and communicate through art. As he said to his mother: "What would I do if I didn't paint? What would I do?"

Producer: Martin Williams.

03Arturo Bispo do Rosario: The Sculptor Who Saved the World20150107

03Arturo Bispo Do Rosario: The Sculptor Who Saved The World20150107

The visionary Brazilian sculptor Arthur Bispo do Rosario spent fifty years of his life on a Rio de Janeiro psychiatric ward, and did not even think of himself as an artist.

Born in Japaratuba on the east coast of Brazil, the descendent of African slaves, he was exposed to a strongly religious culture and to the hybrid traditions of folk art. He'd been a sailor and an odd-job man when, in 1938, he had a vision of angels bathed in light. He felt that the Virgin Mary had guided him to record the universe in visual form, in preparation for the Day of Judgement. The same year, he was hospitalized for treatment for paranoid schizophrenia. For Bispo do Rosario, this creative outpouring was a spiritual, not an artistic task: he saw it as his duty to prepare for the Last Judgement.

Bispo do Rosario's work is reminiscent of surrealism, of the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp, of the fabric creations of Louise Bourgeois, the solitary confinement of Kurt Schwitters: all the more extraordinary in that Bispo do Rosario was entirely self-taught, worked in an artistic vacuum, and generated all this extraordinary art through his own originality and imagination.

Producer: Martin Williams.

03Arturo Bispo do Rosario: The Sculptor Who Saved the World2015010720160420 (R3)

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating five disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

The visionary Brazilian sculptor Arthur Bispo do Rosario spent fifty years of his life on a Rio de Janeiro psychiatric ward, and did not even think of himself as an artist.

Born in Japaratuba on the east coast of Brazil, the descendent of African slaves, he was exposed to a strongly religious culture and to the hybrid traditions of folk art. He'd been a sailor and an odd-job man when, in 1938, he had a vision of angels bathed in light. He felt that the Virgin Mary had guided him to record the universe in visual form, in preparation for the Day of Judgement. The same year, he was hospitalized for treatment for paranoid schizophrenia. For Bispo do Rosario, this creative outpouring was a spiritual, not an artistic task: he saw it as his duty to prepare for the Last Judgement.

Bispo do Rosario's work is reminiscent of surrealism, of the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp, of the fabric creations of Louise Bourgeois, the solitary confinement of Kurt Schwitters: all the more extraordinary in that Bispo do Rosario was entirely self-taught, worked in an artistic vacuum, and generated all this extraordinary art through his own originality and imagination.

Producer: Martin Williams.

04Goya, Klee, Matisse: Leaving The Best Till Last?20150108

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating a selection of disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

What comes to mind when you think of disability? Perhaps the child born with a genetic condition, or the person in the prime of life who becomes spinal-cord injured. But only 5% of children and only 10% of working age adults are disabled. The majority of people become disabled in later life, and artists are no exception.

In this programme,Tom Shakespeare discusses how the lives of three artists - the painters Goya, Klee and Matisse - show how restriction created by ageing or disease can open up new creative possibilities.

05Lucy Jones: Crawling To Glory20150109

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating a selection of disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

Lucy Jones may well be the best British painter you've never heard of. There is no doubt about her disability, because she was born with cerebral palsy. But she has no intention of identifying as a disabled artist. Cerebral palsy and dyslexia and depression are part of her biography, but they're not on the label for the artwork, any more than being a woman or living in Ludlow should define her or explain what she does. She wants her portraits to offer a universal comment on humanity.

05Lucy Jones: Crawling to Glory20150109

05Lucy Jones: Crawling to Glory2015010920160421 (R3)

Tom Shakespeare challenges stereotypical ideas about creativity and disability, by celebrating a selection of disabled artists, discussing how their impairments fuelled their genius and demonstrating the variety and achievement of disabled lives.

Lucy Jones may well be the best British painter you've never heard of. There is no doubt about her disability, because she was born with cerebral palsy. But she has no intention of identifying as a disabled artist. Cerebral palsy and dyslexia and depression are part of her biography, but they're not on the label for the artwork, any more than being a woman or living in Ludlow should define her or explain what she does. She wants her portraits to offer a universal comment on humanity.