In the Eye of the Beholder – What is Art?

November 6, 2014

woman admiring colorful paintingWhat is ‘art’? People with something important to say are saying it by creating moving and beautiful work.

Standing in the lobby the other day, one of the engineers sent to service our lift was joking with his pal about the artwork on display. It went along the lines of “Blimey, you can see that the artist is blind, Mate. What a load of rubbish!”

Seething but not wishing to make a scene, I quietly pointed out that whilst his opinions were interesting, they may be seen as offensive by others and therefore I would prefer he kept them to himself. I wanted to say more, but decorum and good manners prevented it.

What is Art?

I must admit, I am often challenged by what some see as Great Art. I have spent hours in galleries, peering hard at epic canvases and trying to see what makes that arrangement of paint worth the eye-watering sum paid. And often, do you know, I cannot see it. I just can’t. It’s the same thing in music with Death Metal and Mahler.

But the important thing about art and music is that it is a reflection of the feelings, spirit and expression of the vision of the artist. What we see, how we interpret, is really all about us. They are saying something; we are being communicated to, if not necessarily with.

Music is incredibly important to people with visual impairments and many of the profoundly learning disabled, blind and partially sighted people I work with have an incredible relationship with sound and music, perfect pitch and prodigious talent as examples. Music speaks to them and through making music they speak to us.

Saying something

Art is also a means of speaking, even for those who don’t have sight. It is not just a visual medium. The works on display are vividly bright, exciting and include tactile elements of fabric and relief that are supposed to be felt, not just looked at. The works incorporate sounds, to bring the work even more to life. The artist is speaking to us in a language they understand and we need to ‘look’ beyond the visual to appreciate it.

We all need a way to express ourselves, to put across the things we feel and think but cannot always show in words. Giving people who struggle with verbal communication and with sharing their feelings a means to do this through art is something we should all consider. A wealth of help exists to support people with learning disabilities to engage in the arts.

Go for example to Disability Arts Online and search on ‘learning disability’ for a range of organisations offering art and creative opportunity across the UK.

I think I can see what our visually impaired artist was saying with her wildly swirling wheels of crusty orange and yellow paint, silvery streamers and bells. The whole canvas yells excitement at you. She calls it ‘Holidays’. Mind you, I still struggle with Rothko.

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Ginny Tyler

Learning Disabilities Specialist

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