Art for the Visually Impaired

Imagine yourself visually impaired, or even totally blind. Close your eyes, and then imagine that even if you opened them, you still would be cut off from the visual world most of us take for granted.

In that situation, would art have any meaning for you? Could it? Would there be any possibility for you to understand what seems a simple concept — color?

You might be answering “Sculpture! I could experience sculpture!” Yes, you could, if it weren’t behind barriers in the art museum that say Please Do Not Touch.

How would you “see” and understand art?

Fortunately, there are more and more ways to answer that conundrum. People are becoming more aware of “other ways of seeing,” which opens up all sorts of worlds that were not imaginable before.

One of the people I ‘met’ during the A to Z challenge is mosaic artist Margaret Almon. Margaret and her husband/creative partner have an art studio/shop called Nutmeg Designs, through which they showcase their beautiful work. In one of Margaret’s posts during A to Z month, she talked about (and displayed) layered mosaics, and told of a visually impaired woman experiencing these lovely pieces through her fingertips. Even non-layered mosaics would be an art-form open to “visualization” by those whose sight is inward rather than outward, as the change between glass and grout could be sensed by the fingertips, and the artists’ vision be captured in a tactile way. Please take a look (the visual is everywhere, isn’t it?) at Margaret’s post about layered mosaics. Later, I hope you’ll take time to look at her entire site. There is much beauty to behold there.

Sculpture Gardens are another wonderful way to experience art through touch. Take a stroll around these gardens — I’ll be waiting when you come back.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Leo Mol Sculpture Garden in Winnipeg, Manitoba

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC

Kids who love Beverly Cleary’s books will be delighted to be able to “see” the characters through their fingers at

The Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden, Portland, OR

This is just a small sample of what’s available. There are many other sculpture gardens around the world, just waiting to be experienced.

Please Touch… When I started thinking about this topic, I remembered reading a magazine article several years ago about an artist who had made life masks — facial casts — of famous people (I particularly remember her life mask of Jimmy Carter). These life masks were being taken around the U.S. to allow visually impaired people to “see” these famous people. I had hoped to be able to share images of her art with you, but a google search determined that it was back in 1992 (20 years ago — how can that be?) that Willa Shalit was doing this project, and like most of us, she has moved on to other things. It was an admirable project, however, and if you are able to find a copy of the now out-of-print Life Cast: Behind the Mask, it would make for very interesting reading.

Other resources:

BlindArt in the United Kingdom celebrates art by and for the visually impaired.

Another life cast project, The unTouchables, this one in the UK.

On now, until August 2012, at the Southern California College of Optometry, an exhibit of art by visually impaired artists.

On Friday, for Perfect Picture Book Friday, I’ll be sharing a book that helps those of us who are sighted begin to imagine how to perceive color without vision.

Close your eyes, experience the objects around you by touch alone. Imagine ways art could enhance the life of someone who couldn’t see. How can those thoughts inform how you look at the world around you?

16 thoughts on “Art for the Visually Impaired”

  1. Fabulous post, Beth, and I learnt so much. There are resources out there I hadn’t hear of. I did know a little about sculpture gardens, but not Beverly Cleary’s in Oregon. Oh how I LOVE this idea of this for a book! I would love to talk to some blind or visually impaired children’s authors now, and ask them how/if they visualize their scenes/characters? Do you know of any blind picture book authors, Beth?

    Thank you for introducing us to Margaret Almon’s beautiful mosaic work!

    1. YES! And I don’t know why I didn’t mention her in this post. Jean Little is a Canadian author, visually impaired all her life, has a guide dog, and writes fabulous middle grade, chapter books, and picture books. I tried to contact her through her website to request an interview, but haven’t been successful. I will keep on trying.

      Thank you — and you’re welcome. Isn’t Margaret’s work wonderful?

  2. I hadn’t ever really thought about this, Beth, but what a good point. And how wonderful that people out there dedicate themselves to making art “visible” and accessible to visually impaired people. I wonder if there’s a similar idea in place for hearing impaired people to experience music? I agree with Joanna – it would make a great idea for a book!

    1. Thank you. And oh, you have to know you’ve set the gears in my head in motion with that question about music for the hearing impaired…

  3. I love the idea of making art accessible to the visually impaired. Margaret’s blog and beautiful layered mosaics were absolutely stunning. I appreciate the talent of those who create sculptures and all artwork. Thanks for all of the sites you provided. Very important and interesting post. Watch for the book I’m reviewing for PPB this week.

    Liked Susanna’s question about hearing impaired. For some reason it reminds me of the movie “Copying Beethoven,” and specific scenes where he comments his head is full of music that he couldn’t write down fast enough, and his anger at God for not allowing him to hear it played. But, he heard it in his mind.

    1. Thanks for your wonderful comment, Pat. I will, indeed, watch for your PPB this week!

      I haven’t seen that movie. I certainly thought of Beethoven when I read Susanna’s question, though. Have you seen Beethoven Lives Upstairs? It’s a movie for kids, and is excellent.

  4. Wonderful post Beth. I never would have thought of mosaics being helpful. My most memorable and enjoyable school trip was to a mosaic museum. I can’t imagine losing sight, how awful.

    1. A mosaic museum would be so wonderful! I think it would be terrible to lose one’s sight. Worse than losing hearing, in my opinion. Thanks, Catherine!

  5. This is wonderful. How did I miss that post by Margaret. She’s one of my favorite blog stops. Her art captures me. I’m so glad people are using their creativity in ways that include all people. I’m sharing this post with my artist friend.
    Play off the Page

  6. Hi Beth,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and “liking” me on fb. I know … the little copyright “policeman” was hilarious :))

  7. Thank you for including my work Beth! And thanks everyone for the kind comments. Every year Bryn Mawr Rehab has an art exhibit called Artability, which features work by disabled artists, including those who are visually impaired. which is another aspect of making art cross many boundaries. It was an incredible show! In regards to Susanna’s idea of music for the hearing impaired, I remember reading about feeling the vibrations from sounds and enjoying that.

    1. You’re very welcome, Margaret. As you can see, my readers were bowled over by your wonderful mosaics!

      Artability sounds wonderful — thank you for sharing it with us!

  8. Pingback: Reflections on the A to Z Challenge 2012: Almost the A, B, and C of It

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