They say a picture is worth 1,000 words. According to the internet that phrase originated from a guy named Fred R. Barnard, sort of. There’s a debate about this. Regardless, as a writer (see The Travelers), I think I prefer the 1,000 words, generally.

Words Create Pictures

I prefer to think of this phrase in reverse. 1,000 words can create a picture, in your brain. As a reader, I enjoy turning words into drawings in my mind. And, as a writer, I picture the world I’m creating jumping up around me. With every word I type I sketch out a scene and then fill in shapes, textures and colors. It’s like art in your brain.

So why not help the blind see art in their brains too?


There’s More Than One Way to Experience Art

No, I’m not talking about brail. I’m talking about art. Those paintings that hang on the wall. The kind in museums. I’m talking Picasso, Rembrandt, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, to name a few. Art for the blind? How can this be? (That sounded much less Dr. Suess-ish in my head).

“Sight isn’t the only pathway to understand art.”

-Carol Wilson

Well, the Smithsonian American Museum of Art in Washington, DC, wasn’t going to let a little thing like visual impairment stop people from appreciating art. They “looked” beyond the obvious, mundane reaction – art for blind people, don’t be ridiculous – and “sensed” another way.

But How?

The Museum created a program and trained approximately a dozen docents to provide guided tours for the blind or the visually impaired. The docents were taught to use descriptive language and analogies to help visitors visualize and appreciate the artwork. How do they do this? Oftentimes, they equate a piece of art to other senses or experiences that people who are visually impaired might understand.

That Sounds Like Writing

If you think about it, this concept really isn’t so crazy. When you read, you’re experiencing a form of artistic blindness. You can’t see the images on the page. You have to create those images in your head, create a world in your mind. How is a tour of art for the blind where art is described vividly so visitors can paint a picture in their mind any different?

Still sounds a little crazy? Well, think about when you read. With a just single sentence, a whole scene can be conjured.

Read this sentence:

She walked into the expansive garden, the budding fragrance of magnolias putting a spring in her step.

What did you see in your mind when you read it? You didn’t just picture a person walking into some boring garden. Even if you did, you’re still picturing the garden. You’ve filled it in with your imagination. Maybe signs of spring pop up in your mind, complete with thickening bushes about to burst open with flowers. Maybe you feel the cool breeze of spring or hear a fat bumble bee zip about. Maybe you pictured the woman’s foot, her shoe or maybe she was barefoot. The point is, you create more of the world than is created for you in a single sentence. Your imagination fills in the gaps.

Turning Art into Words

“There’s a red in one of the paintings and I’ve said it’s like biting into a strawberry.”

– Docent Phoebe Kline

Essentially, theses docents are turning art into words and then back into art in the minds of the visitors. It makes me want to be a docent. I’d love to walk around finding exciting ways to describe art to people. (Actually, my sister was an art minor, together we’d probably make a great docent team!)

If you think about art in this way, it makes sense to have a program like this for the blind.  They’re people. They have imaginations. Their imaginations are actually probably far greater than those of us who can see.

The program also has a larger lesson for us as humans. Can you imagine the response the first time someone suggested it? But, that person who thought of this, who conceived it, that’s the kind of person who will change the world for the better. The person who doesn’t see limitations, only opportunities. Sometimes only once we’re blind can we truly see…

If you’d like to learn more about this program or ones like it, check out the links below.