On May 26th, 2015 we learned about

Two-dimensional art made accessible to the blind with textured paint

As such a visually oriented species, much of human art is meant to be experienced with the eyes. Paintings, photographs and even most sculpture is only ever seen, especially when there are concerns about older paintings breaking down and degrading. As such, art collections are of limited value to the blind, although there have been attempts to correct that, the latest of which is happening now at the Prado Museum in Spain.

The Prado has made special copies of a sampling of paintings in their regular collection, including some by Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, specifically for blind people. These paintings retain the original colors, but were painted in what might be described as sophisticated puffy-paint. Ultraviolet light, such as from the sun, causes the paint to rise, adding depth and texture to the canvas. Visitors are then encouraged to touch the paintings, getting a sense of their contents from this tactile experience and the text descriptions accompanying each piece. Sighted guests can borrow blackout glasses if they would like to simulate this sort of “viewing” as well.

Textures building upon color

This is not the first time this concept has been done, but it is the first time paintings were reproduced with both color and texture. Previous exhibits for the blind focused strictly on tactile impressions, with 3D-printed sculptures and texture-only paintings created for the blind. But including color is appreciated by people with with weakening vision. They can get an idea of the color used, but then switch to touch to appreciate details.

While I’ve often wanted to touch some paintings by Van Gogh, they probably wouldn’t be a great match for this kind of project. As Van Gogh applied paint thickly, to the point of making small peaks of pigment across a painting, those globs of paint didn’t necessarily describe the image they were coloring. These reproductions instead are using paintings with detail that can more easily be transformed into a texture, such as lace collars in a portrait, or flowers and leaves against a smooth background. Which is too bad because it’d be really fun to poke Starry Night.

My kindergartner asked: How do blind people get around the museum? In addition to the traditional canes, the museum is open to seeing-eye-dogs, going as far as providing water dishes for the assiting canines.


Source: Do Touch The Artwork At Prado's Exhibit For The Blind by Lauren Frayer, Parallels

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