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   ASLU:  "Deaf Artists -- Past and Present"

Citation:  Motley, A. (2016, May 11). Deaf Artists -- Past and Present. ASL University. Retrieved from



By Amber Motley

Deaf Artists -- Past and Present

Art has always been a way to show how an artist sees the world, and it can take many different forms -- some people paint or sculpt, while others use performance to convey a message. Art is a personal experience that anyone at any skill level can use to express themselves, so it comes as no surprise that the Deaf and hard of hearing are active participants in the art world. Some Deaf artists share their perspective of the world, focusing on their deafness, while others create for any number of reasons. The same is true for any artist: one may focus on one aspect of life that is very important to them, but they have the option to create content about any subject they want to.

A manifesto exists specifically for Deaf Culture Art, called the De'VIA Manifesto, or Deaf View/Image Art. Deaf artists who create work that specifically refers to Deaf Culture can be considered De'VIA artists. A notable contemporary artist of this sort is Christine Sun Kim, who has drawn a connection between American Sign Language and music -- quite literally! She sees ASL as "visual music," and shows that the Deaf experience sound in their own way (Kim, 2015). Using musical staffs and sweeping lines, Kim elegantly shows the relationship that music and ASL can have.

Deaf artists have been around for centuries, though they often do not get the recognition they deserve. For example, the "first deaf person in history known by name," Quintus Pedius, was a talented Roman painter in the 1st century AD (Harrington, 2006). Another notable example is Juan Fernández Navarrete, also known as "El Mudo," or "The Mute." Navarrete was a deaf Spanish painter who used art at an early age to express his needs (Lang, 1995). Francisco Goya, a highly successful and influential modern painter in the 18th century was left deaf after an illness in 1792, which had an impact on his artistic style of painting. Often times information such as this is not discussed in art history courses, but it's clear that it has an effect on the artist and their work.

In more recent times, forms of animation have become popular, both traditional 2D as well as 3D. One might wonder if the Deaf are involved in this category, and the answer is of course they are! Some notable examples of Deaf animators include Mark Fisher (first successful Deaf animator), Gino Giudice (worked on Flintstones), and Michael Freeman (3D animator). Many Deaf animators use animation to create entertainment for other deaf people by animating characters using ASL. Hands are one of the most troublesome subjects for many artists to render accurately, let alone animate a language based on hand movements, so it takes great skill to be able to do this!

Contemporary Deaf artists not only work in animation, but in all other forms of art as well. Chuck Baird, one of the founders of De'VIA, was a painter, actor, and sculptor (Murad, 2012). Tracey Salaway, specializing in digital arts and filmmaking, has been "a professor at Gallaudet University Art Department since 1997" (Salaway, 2010). It's clear that the range of Deaf artists stretches far and wide, and covers a variety of mediums as well as messages.

While numerous Deaf artists exist, they often are not well-known in the general art world, which is unfortunate because they are contributing to the world and have things to say that are just as important as any other artist's message. Deaf artists in history are only recently gaining recognition for their work, and while it's a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done by way of appreciating the Deaf and their contributions, artistic or otherwise.


Durr, Patti. (n.d.). Mark Fisher. Retrieved 5 May 2016: <>.

Harrington, Tom. (September 2006). Frequently Asked Questions: Earliest Known Deaf People (to 1700 AD). Gallaudet University Library. Gallaudet University. Retrieved 5 May 2016: <>.

Kim, Christine Sun. "The Enchanting Music of Sign Language." TED Fellows Retreat 2015. Asilomar Conference Grounds, Pacific Grove, CA. August 2015. Conference Presentation.

Lang, Harry G., and Bonnie Meath-Lang. (1995). Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Miller, Betty G. (1989). The De'VIA Manifesto.

Murad, Susan. (2012). Chuck Baird, Noted Artist and RIT/NTID Alumnus, Dies. Retrieved 5 May 2016: <>.

Also see:

► Deaf Artists
► Deaf Art and Entertainment

Deaf Artists -- Past and Present
► Artistic Signing


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