Over the last 2 months, I’ve become more aware of the importance of sight. Obviously, knew the significance but took if for granted. Being an artist, what would happen if one day it were gone? Could I adjust to life without it? Vision is to be cherished and protected. However, it would be a personal challenge to function physically and mentally without it and adjust accordingly.
Last Saturday while shopping for shoes, a group of visually impaired individuals entered the store. Fascinated by how their experience differed from mine, I observed their behavior. One woman started to gently feel a wild pair of tall suede boots with multiple buckles and 4-inch high heels. She gleefully stated to her friend how these “shoes” would be great for dancing and hanging out. As a result, they must be tried on immediately. Many thoughts ran through my mind. I can “see” but because of my clumsiness, boots like these would result in broken limbs. However, here’s a woman letting nothing get in her way.
While working on a 42×360 inch pen and ink drawing inspired by Andy Goldsworthy’s Drawn Line and the architecture of Dominus Estate at the de Young Museum in September, a woman gazed at my drawing from up close to far away. As I started to engage conversation and curious by her behavior, the visitor shared that her eyesight was failing. As a result, the drawing reminded her of looking at a road map fading in and out at different convergent points. The entire month working on the drawing, I never once considered how my artwork would interact with a visually impaired individual. Wow: what a revelation. Realizing my short sightedness expanded my perspective and approach within my art practice.
Artists like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas experienced issues with their sight. According to Nicholas Bakalar of The New York Times: “The later years of both Claude Monet and Edgar Degas were marked by failing vision and corresponding changes in the style of their paintings, creating an ambivalence about their later work among both their contemporaries and today’s critics. Monet had cataracts that severely limited his color discrimination, which may help explain the increasingly muddied tone of his paintings from 1912 to 1923, when he had a cataract removed. After his surgery, he destroyed many later canvases.” Even with Monet and Degas’ deteriorating vision, they fought, innovated, and created artistic masterpieces while understanding their fate.
While researching artists for this blog entry, I discovered artist John Bramblitt who lost his vision due to epilepsy. He uses his fingertips to mix together paint colors knowing the subtle differences in textures and body of each color. Bramblitt then makes slightly raised ridges of thinly lined paint outlining the picture’s composition. After the lines dry, he fills in areas with paint to create finished art pieces. From Bramblitt’s website: “The blindness and epilepsy are parts of me that are considered disabilities, but they are just some of the characteristics that comprise me as a whole — they no more define me as a person or artist as does any other single characteristic such as my height or weight. It is easy to focus on limitations, the aspects of life that disabilities restrict, but you could just as easily say this about any of your defining characteristics.”
Visually impaired individuals have the capacity to see more than the “normal” viewing public. This has caused me to take the time to actually look, engage, and savor the beauty around me. Overall, sight appears in different forms and definitions. Claude Monet: “One can do something if one can see and understand it…”