by Craig Pearson
At first glance, the e-Gallery for the Art Education for the Blind’s “Art Beyond Sight” initiative looks like a typical online collection. Hyperlinked tiles show previews of pieces by various artists—many bearing pops of color and textured shapes, some bold, others subtle. It is only when one clicks through to see the works full-size that the unique energy of this collection reveals itself.
“Art Beyond Sight” showcases visual artwork by blind artists. The e-Gallery contains photographs of works in numerous media, most of which are deceptively simple. What appears at first to be a drawing is, in fact, a sculpture in limestone—a denim jacket carved from stone and stained with oils to produce an acutely realistic, yet ultimately inflexible, form. An angel-shaped ornament turns out to be made entirely of long, thin strips of rolled paper. An abstract painting is actually an underwater photograph.
The featured artists hail from across the globe and live with varying degrees of vision loss. Many of them attribute their abstract points of view to these visual conditions. One artist writes that “my handicap, which on the surface has blinded my vision of the world, has actually allowed me to look much more closely at the world and to see what is truly there.” The sculptor of the limestone jacket is quoted as calling her unbalanced vision (due to blindness in one eye) an “extraordinary gift” that gives her sculptures an “uncommon perspective, jarring color, an anomalous form.” It is easy to see, when browsing this e-Gallery, the truth in these statements.
While their works differ vastly in form and technique, the artists on display here share a common fascination with point of view. Many embrace unexpected abstractions, portraying common objects—like a jacket or an ornament—from unique perspectives. Additionally, several describe how their approach to art has changed over the course of their lives, whether as a result of shifting perspective due to progressive vision loss, or merely due to new-found insights and discoveries.
Viewing and experiencing these works of art, one is struck by the multiplicity of ways in which human beings observe and perceive the world around them. One might wonder: is art made by a visually impaired individual fundamentally different from that made by someone with clinically unimpaired vision? At first look, the answer appears to be no. The “Art Beyond Sight” e-Gallery only reveals its idiosyncrasies up close. Pieces that seem traditional unveil their atypical techniques; use of color proves daring and unconventional; form and subject clash to create new impressions.
In the end, it may not be possible to pick the blind artist out of a crowd of art pieces. But viewing such works collected together, one can appreciate the rich perspectives that these artists bring to the fore in their artwork. They raise questions about how we see. And the answers stand irrefutably on display before us, in all their colors and forms.
Craig Pearson is the editor-in-chief of Exceptions Journal. He is a senior at Michigan State University pursuing degrees in Neuroscience, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and English.