The successful artists with disabilities that aren't always obvious

5th June 2018

Disability or impairment can have various meanings. It could be physically, mentally or developmentally but, for many people, it is a part of life that cannot be avoided. Some people call it fate and some refer to it as one of life’s obstacles.

We’ve found some famous artists that you may or may not know are/were disabled. Being successful is difficult — all the more so when tackling disability and the stigma sometimes attached. These people have overcome the obstacles in their paths to success, and continue to inspire thousands each day with their achievements and courage.

Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven Plaza in Vienna
This statue in Vienna is of Beethoven, one of the world’s most famous composers, who was deaf

You must have heard of the renowned composer and pianist Ludwig Van Beethoven. His works are celebrated and enjoyed by masses, even today. But many people forget that Beethoven started to lose his hearing during his late 20s and it deteriorated to the extent that he was diagnosed with a severe form of tinnitus, eventually becoming deaf in the last decade of his life.

Maybe you already knew he was deaf but you probably didn’t know that Beethoven thought his deafness could be attributed to a seizure he had in 1798, that was brought on by a rage. Beethoven could be been epileptic but it’s more likely he had psychogenic fits — seizures that look and feel like epilepsy but the brain activity is different.

Going deaf meant he had to give up public performances, but his determination did not stop him from composing some of his best work. He is still remembered for his contribution and accomplishments during the transition period from classical style to the romantic style.

Millie Bobby Brown

Millie Bobby Brown in Stranger Things
Brown shot to fame for her role as Eleven in Stranger Things 📸 Netflix

Millie Bobby Brown is a household name, courtesy of her role in Stranger Things. Her character Eleven sent Brown to new realms of popularity when she was only 13 years old.

Aside from her incredible acting skills, she’s known for her singing. She has established herself as an accomplished singer, but only a few people know that Brown is deaf in one ear. Born with partial loss of hearing, she has now lost her hearing completely in that ear. But, that didn’t break her trust in herself or stop her from achieving her dreams.

“I just started to sing, and if I sound bad I don’t care because I’m just doing what I love,” she said in an interview with Variety. “You don’t have to be good at singing. You don’t have to be good at dancing or acting. If you like to do it, if you genuinely enjoy doing it, then do it. No one should stop you.”

Stephen Wiltshire

Stephen Wiltshire, born in London, is an artist famous for his drawings and paintings of detailed cityscapes. He is known for his lifelike representations of the visions and scenes he sees around himself, particularly of cities.

As a child, Stephen found it difficult to communicate and was soon diagnosed with autism. Even though Stephen lived in his own world, he made an impact on various people through his work and experiences. He has been widely recognised for his talents, and was not only awarded an MBE, but his works and life have also been subject to various documentaries and books.

Sudha Chandran

Sudha Chandran
Chandran rocking the red carpet 📸 Bollywood Hungama

Chandran has established herself as a famous Indian television and film actress, but she is best known for her accomplishments as a Bharatnatyam dancer. She is a trained classical Indian dancer and wished to be a celebrated one since her early age.

In her teens, she contracted gangrene after an accident and needed to have her leg amputated. But her hopes and dreams could not be shattered, and she continued her dance training after a gap of two years by getting a prosthetic foot.

Despite facing a lot of difficulties, she eventually overcame all odds to become one of the most famous classical dancers, doing shows all over India and the world. She also gained popularity as an actor though her first film, Mayuri which was based on her own life.

Peter Longstaff

Peter Longstaff is one of the most famous painters and known for his artwork drawn and painted with his legs — not that you’d know by looking at his work. Longstaff was born without arms due to his mother’s intake of the drug Thalidomide during her pregnancy.

However, despite the fact that he was disabled from birth, his family never treated him differently and helped him lead a normal life. He took up farming from a young age, and ran a farm in his bare and muddy feet for twenty years. However, when the pig farming industry was undercut by European pork imports in the 1990s, he returned to his hobbies and became an artist.

He quickly became one of the most prominent foot painting artists in the UK, and worked with the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo with her husband, 1932 📸 Carl Van Vechten

Frida Kahlo is known worldwide for her surrealist portraits, but surprisingly little is known about her life other than her support of feminist and communist movements.

Kahlo was left disabled by polio as a child, inhibiting her movement, and at age 18 she was involved in a traffic collision in which she was impaled by a steel handrail. This crushed her pelvis and dislodged three of her vertebrae, causing her lifelong health problems and eventually causing her death.

Late in her life, Kahlo also suffered from depression and had to have her leg amputated due to a gangrene infection. However, she persisted with painting, which gave her an outlet for her existential thoughts and crises, as well as her political activism.

While relatively uncelebrated during her lifetime, her surreal and revolutionary work is now considered hugely important and she is one of the most successful artists of the 20th century. As is all too common for famous artists, she only put on one exhibition in her lifetime and much of her acclaim came posthumously.

5th June 2018