So, why Touch the Art then? 15th May 2013

The pressure of the hands causes the springs of life to flow.” – Tokujiro Namikoshi

Museums are an incredibly engaging environment to spend time in,

whether you are a young student on a school trip, an art student,

a tourist, a parent on a fun day-out with the kids, a tourist, or a

company executive taking time on lunch to unwind, there is always

something to either engage, inspire, amuse or challenge you.

But what kind of engagement can you expect to experience, or

is available to you, if you are a visually impaired or blind visitor?

The beauty of Modern and contemporary art is its relevance to us,

in the here and now, transcending traditional art and a precursor

of conceptual art. Conceptual art in itself is an art type borne out

of ideas, where the visual appearance of the work of art is not an

essential point, often times taking a secondary, probably even

less important significance.

Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” – Carl G. Jung

Touch is one of the 5 senses (which includes sight, hearing, smell

and taste) and while the other senses are located in specific parts

of the body,the sense of touch is found all over the body. The

things we physically come into contact with pass a wide range

of information about their physical characteristics and it is this

information and message that registers in our brain, originating

from the nerve endings on the body via the spinal cord to the brain.

The Somatic sensory system is responsible for our sense of touch

and the  most common receptors in the body are heat, cold, pain and

pressure, and the hands and finger-tips are the most sensitive areas

of our body. The exploratory or inquisitive kind of touch experienced

through this tactile process helps us learn about the world around us.

From the moment we walk into a space, our sense of touch gathers

millions of fragments of information from the surrounding area, from

the cold metal door handle, the hard desk, the soft coat, the hot

coffee, the wet kiss from the dog’s nose, the rough living-room rug,

the smooth table top, and the temperature, texture, weight and sense

of weight of the other objects we come in contact with.

This amazing daily journey, receiving a constant train of

communication from our sense receptors to the brain, is a

natural process that helps us make associations with our

surroundings, and one that is utilized to give the visually

impaired and blind visitor an experience of artworks

in Museums.

Hands are the heart’s landscape” – Pope John Paul II

The Touch tours program in most Museums use this valuable process

to engage with the artworks. Touch does not replicate nor does it

give the same visual perception as the sense of sight but it does

provide a platform where the visualization process of mind-mapping

and mental imagery can be exploited by the visually impaired and

blind visitor, ultimately supporting a greater exploration and

understanding of the characteristics of the objects and works of

art before them.

Touching the art does not only allow the visually impaired and blind

access to artworks but it also encourages new lines of conversation,

dialogue and discussions between the visually impaired and blind,

other interest groups and the art world in general.

Poll: What sculpture would you most want to touch?

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Museums and art galleries are

continually pushing the boundaries and developing new ways of

exploring the varied range of Modern and contemporary art, without

compromising the health and life of the works of art. Curators, art

educators, other museum staff and the viewing public all have a

responsibility to preserve and conserve these valuable works for

generations to come. Museums have guidelines in place to protect

the touchable collection in Museums from damage during these tours,

and you can read my article,

Developing touch tours, which looks at best practice in balancing

access needs and conservation.

I guess the growing challenge is to find more ways to engage

conceptual art, so that these ideas-based art type can also be

shared with and explored by the visually impaired and blind visitors

to Museums.


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