Most of us take our sight for granted. We're greeted with colours, textures, light, and shade from the moment we wake until we close our eyes at night. Even then, our eyes can produce all kinds of imagery in the dark. Mine do, often it's like I've not closed my eyes at all. However, not all of us have this ability to perceive the world. We know about blind people and have probably met a few, but have we thought about how we can create art for them? Music is clearly a great option, but there's so much more out there!
Touch can actually be as helpful as vision when it comes to exploring something. To be able to feel something with our fingertips, which are one of the most sensitive parts of the body, we get a unique perspective on the shape, texture, and nature of the thing we touch. For visually impaired people, touch has a heightened importance. Although not a substitute for vision, a lot of information can be interpreted from the ways things feel. Knowing this has helped some remarkable artworks to be produced.
Sculpture is an obvious choice for tactile art, a well sculpted piece usually resembles the object it is representing. Artistic design can also be used to alter the form somehow, to accentuate a particular element or sensation. These things, although visible, are best felt with the hands. Not all sculptors want their work to be touched, however when they do, it's an experience for the senses. What about combining more than one non-visual sense? Touch and sound together for a visually impaired art lover can become a really absorbing experience.
At the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, there is such an exhibit. Specifically targeted at the visually impaired, a whole array of sculptures await eager fingers. Bird forms, including swans and blue herons, make up most of the display. These are combined with their call sounds. The lifelike models are designed to be explored and massaged with the hands, beak, feet, feather shapes and all. According to museum curator Catie Anderson, the museum wants to offer people with low vision or blindness an
“intimate and valuable art experience.” (Wausau Daily Herald)
Where-as most people think of accessibility in terms of ramps and lifts, providing opportunities for less-able people to experience a function can mean so much more. These artistic representations of natural creatures are designed to be ideal for people who rely on touch and sound to explore their world. It's not often we get to handle birds, and if we've never seen one then how do we know what they look like? Things we can hear and touch brings the world of nature to us without the use of eyes.
Coordinated by artistic advisor Ann Cunningham, her experience in sculpture, birds, and teaching art have helped to unify several projects for one purpose. The tactile experience is just as valid as the visual one and more effort can be put into producing things for touching. This permanent feature at the museum will no-doubt attract many new visitors who may never have thought they'd go to an art gallery. Called “In Touch With Art”, visually impaired people in Wausau can be assured their culture is a permanent fixture at their local museum.
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