Considering How Persons with Visual Disabilities Appreciate Art
My research theme is “how persons with visual disabilities appreciate art at art museums”. Art museums are spaces with premises where persons “see works”. I consider how persons with visual disabilities, who have difficulty seeing, “see” works in the spaces and what kinds of experiences they have for appreciating art through the methods.
It is in 1970s that art museums became open to persons with visual disabilities in developed countries and they had increasing opportunities to go to art museums and appreciate art. The phenomenon at first started in the West and then in Japan, too. Behind this increase lay two ways of thinking that it is important for persons with visual disabilities to appreciate art, together with the movement of universal museum or inclusive design. One is the viewpoint of cultural equal opportunity in the area of welfare. Especially in Japan, civil movements have become active since 1980s and various trials have been made to connect persons with disabilities with art museums. The other is the viewpoint that appreciating art leads to educational effect of children with visual disabilities. This accords with the movement in the area of museology. That is, art museums which had specialized only in “seeing” since the modern era have made preparation to accept various visitors by incorporating activities including “listening” and “experiencing”. Various visitors included persons with visual disabilities.
There are basically three ways persons with visual disabilities “see” works. One is to “touch” three-dimensional works including sculpture. Another is to “listen to” description of art works through audio description. The other is “dialogue” in which persons without visual disabilities are grouped with persons with visual disabilities and see a work while talking about it freely. Using these three methods, sometimes combining them depending on works, persons with visual disabilities appreciate works.
I have conducted my research by focusing both on the historical background / theory analysis of activities of art museums and on the ways of appreciating art. My survey methods include not only analysis of related literature and materials but interview surveys to persons involved in art museums and persons with visual disabilities who have actually appreciated art. My survey regions include not only Japan but the West, especially the U.K and the U.S. I have carefully read related literature and materials I collected locally. Moreover, I have been to art museums to observe workshops and interview art museum staff. Concerning interview surveys to persons with visual disabilities who have actually appreciated art, I have surveyed distinctive characters and problems each method has.
Swell-formed graphics and tactile TATEBANKO (paper dioramas) I used for a class for experiencing art appreciation at a school for the blind. The original drawing is 'Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji The Great Wave off Kanagawa' by Hokusai Katsushika.
Last academic year I conducted an experimental workshop of appreciating art at a school for the blind based on knowledge I have received from my past surveys. Under the cooperation of volunteer groups that plan a tour of appreciating art and art teachers at a school for the blind, I combined the “dialogue” method with the method of “touching” swell-formed graphics and asked students at a school for the blind to appreciate art works. By analyzing how they appreciate art, I think that I can reveal some way of how persons with visual disabilities make up an image of art works from “words” exchanged in the “dialogue”.
When you say the single word, “persons with visual disabilities”, how they can “see” varies depending on the levels of their disabilities and timings of their disability origins. Thus, appreciating art by persons with visual disabilities have various different aspects from the existing way of appreciating art which is a visual activity. The existing experience of appreciating art presupposes the act of “seeing” and it has been told as such. Departing from such existing viewpoint and seeing art appreciation from another viewpoint of persons with visual disabilities, I would like to show a new dimension which has a potential of promoting alteration both of the way of appreciating art by persons without visual disabilities and of art works themselves.