There are many examples of people with disabilities who showed extraordinary talent. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, both extremely gifted musicians who were also blind are just a couple of examples. And while we often think that sight is required for many activities, we see time and time again that people with visual impairments can create stellar art, whether it’s music or, yes, painting. Despite their limitations, many artists with various disabilities are able to bring a unique perspective to the world around us.
One such artist is Sargy Mann, an English painter who paints now even after losing his sight 25 years ago. Originally trained under professional painters Frank Auerbach and Euan Uglow, Mann’s education in painting was in realism. Unlike other styles, which call for representations of dreams, interiority, or something else, realism is about your own, very personal, way of viewing the world. And while cataracts took Mann’s sight at the age of 36, his way of seeing the world only got more unique, more nuanced, and more challenging.
“My world had become greyer and hotter,” Mann said in an interview with The Guardian. “I was a human spectroscope such that I could see that a sodium streetlamp was monochrome because it only had an orange halo.” His gradually dimming sight was not a burden to his art. Instead, it was awakening him to an entirely different way of seeing. And as the years have gone on, and his own sight steadily deteriorated, his unique vision of realism begins to emphasize memory, interiority, the world as remembered and seen through eyes unlike the bulk of society. Mann’s disability has instead challenged his former tutors’ lessons in ways that create a new way of seeing, both for the artist and the audience.
And while some may point to Mann’s disability as a selling feature to his art, those critics have clearly not seen the beautiful colours, the vivid images, and the extreme talent that is evident in every single one of Mann’s paintings. And it’s not like he really needs to worry about detractors, he has enough fans and inquisitive art fiends standing in line to pay four and five figure sums for his work. The price, for some, is a steal.
What Sargy Mann’s artwork proves is that painting, just like music or dance or any other sort of creative enterprise, is pushed forward and defined by the people who see differently. Whether it’s Beethoven’s deafness never stopping him from creating some of the world’s most amazing music, or from a blind John Milton dictating Paradise Lost, all of these brilliant minds came at the world differently. Sometimes that comes from disability, sometimes life experience, or even mental illness. But in every instance, those who dare to see differently, who overcome despite limitations, are the ones who create the new standard for others to aspire.