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Disability is everywhere: World Cup and art

by Simon Minty

21st June 2010

Scratch the surface and you'll find that there's a disability link in most things. Simon Minty brings you up-to-date proof of this theory with his latest dispatch.
barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring a goal against Manchester United in 2009
Lionel Messi
With the World Cup now upon us, I'm rather looking forward to watching hitherto unknown international players perform on the big stage in South Africa. Disability can be a bit hard to find amongst top class sportsmen, however, I was surprised to learn in Time Magazine, that Lionel Messi - arguably the finest player in the world right now - was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency when he was eleven years old.

He was picked up as a youth by Barcelona Football Club who, so long as he moved from Argentina to Spain, offered to pay for growth hormone treatment in order to increase his size. He is still quite small for a footballer being five feet and seven inches, however that doesn't seem to be a hindrance when he's playing.

It reminds me of another small Argentinean footballer, the infamous Diego Maradonna who being slightly smaller than Messi, miraculously had the help of the 'hand of God' when he scored against England way back in 1986. Let's hope the god-like Messi keeps his hands to himself.
John Suchet being interviewed in a studio
I read a rather lovely simile in the Sunday Times intended to represent the essential ingredients of a balanced relationship. John Suchet, the now retired news presenter suggested a partnership worked well if one person was a kite and the other the string. The complimentary nature of personality types was how the relationship was with his wife Bonnie. She, being the string, was a calming influence on her more volatile, hot-headed kite like husband.

You might be wondering why I'm mentioning Bonnie in the past tense as she is still alive. I'm adopting the way John speaks of her; she has dementia and he feels he has lost her and hence that important tethering.

Lets play a quick game of Connections, now. Suchet is a Beethoven expert having written six books about him. Famously Beethoven went deaf but continued to compose music.
Likeness of Beethoven
Disability and artistic genius, especially when related to mental health, is a well documented topic. The assessments, studies and our understanding of mental health is now better than previous generations, but it can still be hard to categorically confirm, say, two hundred years later. Many seem to like retrospectively disabling figures from the past, all the same.

I was interested and surprised to learn just how prevalent disability was amongst modern artists, thanks to the recent BBC series Modern Masters presented by the amiable and authoritative Alastair Sooke. He discussed four key figures: Picasso, Warhol, Dali and Matisse.

Picasso’s depression, following the suicide of a close friend, was followed by his artistic ‘blue period' which in turn influenced the jazz musician Miles Davis after they met some years later in Paris in 1949. Ten years after meeting, Miles released the seminal album “Kind of Blue’ reaffirming the long held link between melancholy and the colour blue.
Andy Warhol
To finish the four, Sooke suspected Andy Warhol had mild autism whilst Salvador Dali met the criteria for, amongst other things, schizophrenia and depression. As for Matisse, he had some tough times but seems not to have had such obvious links to disability.

The last episode of the 6th and final series of US drama Lost, was aired on Sky on 24th May 2010. I confess to having 'lost' the plot of Lost after series one so cannot claim to be an expert nor a proper fan, but there are thousands out there.

As the final episode was aired, I was reminded that the first series had done something unique: a central character, John Locke, named after the 17th century English philosopher (who had asthma by the way) got on the doomed plane using a wheelchair. After the crash on the mysterious island, he started walking again. Popular low price airline Ryanair have some pretty good deals, and have a well-reported track record of the odd blunder regarding wheelchair using passengers, but even they don’t go that far.


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