Art and Blindness

I sometimes get ideas that have potential. Recently, I planned  “Blind Art Day”.  My idea is to assemble a group of blind and partially sighted adults to create art works in a fun and relaxing setting.  This all came about when I met with the Mosaic For Mental Health committee at CMHA.  The Canadian Mental Health Association Halifax, has had this unique fundraising event going for 10 years. Each  year, hundreds of 6 inch square masonite tiles are distributed to anyone interested in turning them into artistic creations. The tiles are returned to CMHA along with a submission form. In October, the tiles are displayed over three days at a lovely public venue. All of Halifax is invited to browse the art and purchase one or many more for the incredible cost of $10.00.  They can be framed on the spot for a few more dollars.  All of the proceeds go to support this worthy community organization.  As past-president of the CMHA board of directors, I  occasionally get involved in supporting their activities.  I offered to work on producing some promotional writing on this 10th anniversary of the Mosaic.  Traditionally, the art created for the Mosaic has been painted.  At some point, my mind wandered into new territory. Why not include some tactile art in the collection?  Why not get some blind people off their duffs and organize… Blind Art Day?  So, on August 15th, a group of people will get together for a few hours to create some art, have some fun and support a worthy organization.  That’s how it will work in theory. My obsessive need for preparedness led me to the Internet to search for information on how to create Blind art, teach it, facilitate it, what materials to use, what not to  use and so on.  I wandered into a site with articles on teaching art for blind children. Lo and behold, I found a wonderful article written by Martha Pamperin. My Martha Pamperin!  Martha is currently a teacher for the Hadley School for the Blind. She was my Braille teacher. We have never met.  (Hadley offers free distance education to blind people around the world Link on my blogroll). I continue to keep in contact with Martha whenever anything interesting comes up that I think she might want ot know about.  I felt certain that she would have wise advice  to offer me about the upcoming Blind Art Day. Indeed she did!  I have combined my own ideas with some of Martha’s here. If you have a blind child whose creative genius you want to foster  or want to get a Blind Art project of your own going with adults, here are a few suggestions:

Much depends on how skillful and experienced the blind artist is.  Some blind people have not experienced art projects that are not for sighted people. Martha explained that in her experience, some teachers try to get blind kids to create things that look OK, but ignore the whole realm of tactile and kinesthetic features of art. It’s a good idea to get a sense of what the prospective artist’s experience has been. What do they find to be personally moving, evoking a feeling, satisfying to the touch, or just nice  to have and be near?  What makes something attractive?  What materials are pleasant to handle and are not?  One of the most important things to consider is the amount of usable vision that the artist has.  This will make a difference in how they go about creating the art work.  Some materials that I am trying to amass in the arsenal for Blind Art Day, include: florists wire to shape and make lines with. Pipe cleaners are also good to make thicker lines. Heavy string might be used, but it is harder to keep in place. It can be knotted or looped to create interesting designs. Two dimensional shapes can be made from colourful poster board. I plan to bring 8″ square sheets that can be cut into shapes by the artists. Fabric scraps are also excellent. A mix of burlap, corduroy, satin, flannel, wool, velvet, taffeta, and blends will provide a tactile selection to choose from. It is best to have helpers on hand to cut fabric. Paper can be crumpled to create interesting three dimensional effects.  All kinds of interesting objects can be used; buttons, washers, bump dots, feathers (a bit awkward to glue), paper clips, old keys, leaves, foam shapes, old jewelery, beads, notebook rings, cut-up pieces of carpet or textured wall paper… pretty much anything that you can think of. It’s a good idea to ask the artist to bring a small personally meaningful item to incorperate.  One of the first steps on Blind Art Day will be to allow the artists to plan their work. it’s important for everyone to examine the available materials. This can be done by placing some of each material on a tray or two to allow each person to know what is available. Baskets can be used to group the chosen items at each persons work area and to keep materials from drifting into another person’s work space.  Smaller tables are probably best to work at, or desks.  If larger tables are used, use plastic place mats or something else to define the individual work space. The artist should spend time arranging the chosen materials.  A type of clay that starts out soft and sets after a few hours can be used to keep things in place. Martha suggests that there is a type of glue which works well to place things. It is the type used to make post-it notes. I think glue sticks are made of  this type of glue.  Once the material is in satisfactory position with post-it glue, a helper can assist to bond things with more permanant glue. (NO CRAZY GLUE!).  I had thought of glitter. Martha cautioned me against it for use with adults. The result would look like something created by a clumsy child. It’s not pleasant to feel. A somewhat similar effect can be achieved with pieces of unused  sand paper. The advantage is that the shape can be easily defined by touch. Sighted helpers should allow creative juices to flow and not provide excessive direction. Judgemental comments like, “that’s beautiful” or “I like that” should be avoided. The artists need to please themselves.  Instead, they could say, ” are you happy with your art piece?” or “tell me about your creation” or “I notice you have a lot of spiral shapes there”. The helpers should FEEL the artwork before commenting.  All people can be involved in both creating art and appreciating it. The process might be different for blind people, but just as satisfying and enriching. If you are planning a project like mine, you might consider soliciting donations of materials. I have had success with some local paint stores (paint colour sample strips), carpeting stores (swatches of carpet samples), design stores (wallpaper samples), as well as my motley crew of artsy-crafty friends who can stand to part with some supplies.

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4 responses to “Art and Blindness

  1. This is a fantastic idea! And thank you for posting some of your ideas. My daughter loves to do artwork, but struggles with it. I’ve always tried to facilitate the process so it’s easier for her to do, but now I see my ideas don’t really work for her. More tactile, less visual, although she has some sight and loves bright colors (red and yellow are her favorite). Rather than focusing on finding things she can see easily, I can also think about what things will feel interesting. Thanks so much!

  2. You’re most welcome! Remember, it’s HER art. It must please her senses, not necessarily your sight. If I need a publisher…. (grin) I think Medusa Press is lovely, but not likely looking for my style of writing.

  3. Doesn’t mean I don’t LOVE your style of writing. This is one of my favorite blogs. (grin back at ya)

  4. Ha! Thanks…does that mean you would read my book if I wrote one? (informal survey)..grin again

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