Future Reflections         Fall 2009

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Reviewed by Ann Cunningham

From the Editor: Ann Cunningham is a widely recognized sculptor and creator of tactile graphics. She teaches art at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

Arts, Culture, and Blindness: A Study of Blind Students in the Visual Arts, by Simon Hayhoe. Teneo Press, 2008, 193 pages, $30, <http://teneopress.com>.

The visual arts hold a pivotal position in our culture. Throughout history people have expressed personal and cultural attitudes and impressions through two- and three-dimensional art. The creation and enjoyment of art are important to all human beings, whether they are sighted or blind.

In Arts, Culture, and Blindness Dr. Simon Hayhoe juxtaposes blindness and visual art, shining a light on cultural assumptions that are rarely examined. His research is concerned with the experience of blind art students in a variety of settings. He carefully examines the students' attitudes toward the arts and how these attitudes have evolved. He also focuses on art teachers and school systems to determine as fully as possible the beliefs and teaching techniques that underlie each student's visual arts experience.

As he interviews art students and teachers, Hayhoe speculates about the circumstances that lead some students to participate gladly in visual art and others to be frustrated by the whole experience. A significant portion of the book discusses the amount of risk a student is asked to take to complete an assignment. Hayhoe explores the consequences of too much risk or too little challenge upon the student's self-confidence and sense of self-worth.

All too often, this book describes students whose teachers have low expectations for them, or no expectations at all. Entirely too typical is the description of a blind student who is handed a lump of clay and told to work with it in the corner, while the real teaching is directed to the sighted students. In contrast, however, is the account of a student who is on fire with creativity. Her story is so inspiring that I can recommend the book on its basis alone. This student accepts the challenge to work with color even though she is only able to do so theoretically, by applying the principles her instructor has taught her. She is highly creative in her approach, tackling color handling and theory. Relentlessly she tries one solution after another until she creates the sculpture she has envisioned. Examples like this one reaffirm my need to hold high expectations for myself as a teacher and to have faith in my students' abilities to find creative solutions.

As I read Dr. Hayhoe's research in Arts, Culture, and Blindness I felt I was given the opportunity to examine my own beliefs. I realized that I had dismissed theoretical inquiry into color as unimportant for blind students. I found myself wondering what else I have dismissed out of hand.

I know artists who are blind and who use color very successfully. One of them I place without reservation among my favorite color field painters. I know it is possible for a person who is blind to use color to convey everything that great art can express. Why then haven't I placed greater emphasis on this area of study for my students?

As an art teacher I will use this book as a tool to reinvigorate and inform my classes. It challenges me to re-examine many of my long-held notions. It is a great gift when we can see ourselves more clearly, and this book helps us do just that.

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