“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
“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