Thursday, March 27, 2014

Art for a Cause: The Blind Artist Society

In undergrad, I had the privilege of being initiated into the Delta Gamma Fraternity. Our motto is to "Do Good" and our philanthropy is Service for Sight. At Furman University, we specifically supported the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, but across the nation, DG's charitable efforts vary though united for raising support and awareness for visual impairments. DG inspired me to care about the reality of visual impairments - Being an artist/art historian adds a whole other facet to the discussion.

I still remember when Chuck Norris (yes, I am so serious) came to speak at Furman - One of the kids from the S.C.S.D.B. was literally his biggest fan and the school brought them so they experience the talk and even meet Mr. Norris. I got to be one of the sisters to escort the child to the talk. To be a bystander as that dream came true was an unbelievable moment to witness, heightened because the child could not even see Mr. Norris...But his voice was enough to have them jumping up and down with pure joy. 

The phrase "visual impairments" does not always literally mean "blind." There is a wide range of visual loss, whether that be transient or permanent. Again considering that this is an art blog, you may be wondering...How can art be done without the ability to -see- it? It is quite possible, my friends. You can do anything if you are determined enough, and the following group is definitely determined.

The Blind Artists Society is a free, web-based, inclusive community for artists, ranging from amateurs to professionals, with varying degrees of visual impairments. It was started in 2007 as a project backed by the Retina Research Foundation, Inc. Though unfortunately the charity closed its doors in 2011, its assets were transferred to the Northeastern Association of the Blind at Albany, which continues to back the BAS. Artists are enabled to share their art work online, organize periodic group exhibits through the NABA, and express themselves through the support of this community. 

I count approximately 40 artists on the BAS website. I can guarantee you, if you were to look through this website without knowing the artists are visually impaired, you would never know. If you were to look through this website and read their stories, I think you would find inspiration with every word, every image. 

Each name comes with a bio - An incredible read and insight into each artist. Michael M. Michaelson recounts the day he realized he couldn't see traffic lights turn green when learning to drive. His evolution is incredible and heartbreaking...and his landscape paintings, despite his inability to perceive color, are dynamic and full of vibrancy. Chelsea Stark is a legally blind wildlife/nature photographer that hasn't let her visual impairment stop her from taking beautiful photographs. Robert Botto builds detailed miniature ship replicas, Michael Newman creates exquisite wood-turned bowls, and Tonia Darling produces elaborate pencil drawings as her eyes recover from multiple surgeries for retinal detachment.

I take my vision for granted. I know I do. I've always had excellent eyesight and I just expect it to always be good. I'm sure that a lot of you reading this might be in the same boat. I wanted to write this post not only to bring awareness to visual impairments, but to inspire people. Sight feels like it is synonymous with art, because so rarely are you allowed to "touch the art" at a museum - You just should just look at it. Imagine if you couldn't - If you only saw blurry shapes or no colors or if bright lights in your eyes were blocking your view. That has the potential to be devastating. But when you have passion, and you are determined to succeed and thrive, you can overcome any odds. And you can make art. 

Established, renowned artist Dale Chihuly, who I wrote about years ago in a post called Seaforms and Chandeliers, was in a car crash in England in 1976 that left him blinded in his left eye. Yet look at what he has been able to accomplish

Whether you have a visual impairment or not, or any kind of impairment for that matter, do not limit yourself by saying you "aren't good" or "you don't know how" or the worst of all, "I can't." Creating something, anything, takes practice and hard work. The biggest of all obstacles to overcome is your own self-doubt. If you tell yourself you can't, then you won't. Simple as that. If you tell yourself you can...Then you can do anything. So do it.

"I've always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you've got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish." - Chuck Norris

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