we are what we are?

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Francisco de Goya 1746–1828

Francisco de Goya was a Spanish painter who was 46 years old when he became profoundly deaf after a serious illness. The impact of this near fatal illness and subsequent deafness is said to have changed his personality from extrovert to introvert.

Most art historians state that his deafness had an important impact on his work, his style, and consequently on modern art. His style was always realistic and he was censured for his portrait of the Naked Maya.

This was considered shocking as the nude was naked for no reason other than being naked. There was no allegory, no neat story to explain the lack of clothes. On top of that, the model stares right back at the viewer, unashamed and bold. She has pubic hair too. Not even Manet’s Olympia of 1863 had pubic hair; she had a discretely placed hand. Goya was called to explain the painting to the Inquisition, and subsequently lost his position as the Spanish Court painter. He painted another version, the Clothed Maya, refusing to paint clothes on the original.
Nicholas Pioch states that Goya was isolated from others by his deafness. His earlier satire became dark and demonic. His style changed and became bold with free, sweeping brush strokes. He also produced etchings such as the satirical Caprichos, as well as the realistic and horrific Disasters of War.


Goya’s Black Etchings were painted on the walls of his house which was known as Quinta del Sordo, The House of the Deaf Man. David Sylvester in “About Modern Art” calls the Black Etchings hellish and sickening, and that no “other major artist has conceived of a world so comprehensively consumed by hate”.


Sylvester also comments that the mouth is prominent in Goya’s art. “Mouths leer, grin, gape, gasp, moan, shriek, belch.” This is interesting, as mouths are prominent in deaf peoples’ lives. We looking at them intently trying to make out what they say, wanting to stop the painful noise that comes out of them when people are shouting at you. We see the anger and aggression that appears in a shouting face. To me this is a profound illustration of the torment of a deaf man. Ciofalo says that “To be deaf in nineteenth-century Europe was considered a pathology related to the mind. This perception was the cause of great despair to both Goya and his contemporary, Beethoven.”
How much of that perception still happens today? Do people still consider that the deaf are stupid? How much does acquired hearing loss affect our personalities, our moods? We are the sum total of our past and actions,
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3 responses »

  1. If people think we deaf are stupid, well, that is so ignorant. I hope in this day and age it is not like that.

    For me, dealing with the hearing all day (at work) they do however, treat me differently (sumx) like talking slower or not including me in office banter, but that just goes with the territory.

    I know a long time ago it was 'deaf and dumb' because they thought the deaf had something wrong with them in the mind. All sorts of remedies were used to cure the deaf, to get them to hear or speak. I once heard about a man whose father took him up in an airplane thinking the excitement of the airplane ride would get him to hear/speak. It didn't he is still deaf.

    Well, as everyone knows. We are not dumb. We are educated, smart, lively people. All we can't do is hear…and it hasn't stopped me.

    Good post.

  2. I had no idea that Goya went deaf! The grotesqueness of those mouths sure has a different meaning to me now.

    Me, I've always been an introvert – though when I've been in the mood for people and social gathering, I could appear very much an extrovert.

    But I've become more introverted over the last couple of years and far less in the mood for social gatherings. In fact, lately I avoid them like the plague. Hearing loss has been and can still be a factor but going through various emotional meat-grinders have had their effects as well.

    Poor Goya…

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