Nothing is more precious to an artist than his or her eyesight. But, we tend to take it for granted, even as we age and have to go to greater and greater optical enhancement extremes to see normally. Art history is full of interesting, even tragic trivia regarding the extent ancient artists went to in order to create, despite failing eyesight. Miniature painters of old were especially vulnerable in this respect, often having labored decades painting such tiny strokes under less than ideal lighting conditions that their vision sometimes failed them by as early as what was then considered middle age. As an art instructor, seeing students working with pointed objects such as brush handles, pencils, pens, or needles (in doing needlepoint) I used to shudder at how careless they could sometimes be. One of my favorite lines in admonishing them was to use extra care because "...there isn't much demand for blind artists." It wasn't funny and wasn't meant to be. It was intended to startle their impressionable young minds as to how easily carelessness could lead to eye damage. Apparently it worked, I never had an eye injury in twenty-six years of teaching.
In Louisville, Kentucky, overlooking the Ohio River, and across the street from a museum devoted to the "Louisville Slugger" baseball bat, is another museum. It's called the New Vision Art Gallery. It's run by the New Vision Enterprises Foundation whose goal is to dispel preconceptions and misconceptions regarding art created BY the blind or visually impaired. Blind in this case refers to those deemed "legally" blind which is often a far cry from TOTAL blindness. This summer, the gallery features the work of twenty-eight different blind or visually impaired artists from seven states demonstrating in some sixty different pieces of work that I was wrong. There IS a demand for blind artists. The work is for sale. As might be expected from such a diverse group whose only connection with one another is the gallery and their similar difficulties in seeing, the work covers a broad range from landscapes to still-lifes and expressionist work.
Dorothy M. Mullins of West Hollywood, California is typical. She was born blind. Her vision, such as it is, demands she work with her eyes less than an inch from her canvas. Not surprisingly, she "wears" her artist image well...on her face and clothes. She claims the rainbow of colors she often acquires in her painting efforts makes her "...look more like an artist." She paints from photos in oils, her white cane always at her side, the two together often arousing curiosity amongst those watching her work. She has two paintings in the gallery's current show (both landscapes) and often sells her work. The gallery's director, Bob Jarboe, long an art buff, is not visually impaired. But, as the drug commercial used to proclaim, he "...knows those who are," such as the gallery's curator, Albertus Gorman. In addition to showcasing the artwork of the blind and visually impaired, Gorman hopes to mount traveling exhibits, getting work OUT of his gallery as much as possible. The gallery is a curiosity designed to "open the eyes" of the sighted to the abilities, rather than the DISabilities of the unsighted--and maybe sell a little artwork as well. The current show runs through August 27, 2000.