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Blind artists are people who are physically unable to see normally, yet work in the visual arts. This seeming contradiction is overcome when one understands that only around 10% of all people with blindness can see absolutely nothing at all. As such most blind people can in fact perceive some level of light and form, and it is by applying this limited vision that many blind artists create intelligible art. Also, a blind person may once have been fully sighted and yet simply lost part of their vision through injury or illness. Blind artists are able to offer insight into the study of blindness and the ways in which art can be perceived by the blind, in order to better improve art education for the visually impaired.
There are a number of publications that promote blind education programs and seek to show how art can be constructive for the blind and those with visual impairments, and the ways in which they can be taught to create art.
Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel’s book Art beyond sight: a resource guide to art, creativity, and visual impairment covers a variety of different subjects like the meanings of making art, art theory and verbal description. The book gives different suggestions about how the blind can actually go about making art; there is an example of one woman who is not completely blind but severely impaired who, when sculpting something, finds it easier to close her eyes and feel the material and the shape rather than trying to see it with her imperfect vision, much like a completely blind person would. The book emphasizes the importance of touch and feeling when creating art without sight.
The book Drawing and the Blind: Perceptions to Touch, by Jonathan Harchick, focuses on the ways in which the blind, both young and old, can perceive pictures and 3D objects. According to Harchick, visually impaired people are able to feel a 3D object and then create a drawing of the object that can be easily recognized by a sighted individual. Harchick likens the drawings of the average blind-since-birth person to those of a sighted child. He notices that blind children are much more willing to attempt to draw than blind adults who have no prior experience. Kennedy discusses the fact that the blind can perceive a drawing made of raised lines, as well as 3D objects that have shape and form.
Blind or visually impaired artists work in a variety of different media, and are by no means limited to only one type of art. The website for the Blind Artist’s Society contains a page where blind artists can display their work, and some types of work include nature/ landscape painting, physical models, wood carvings, portraits, abstract paintings, watercolor paintings, and drawings. Many are able to create realistic artwork through the use of light/shadows and perspective in their work.
Textile Needle Arts such as machine sewing, hand sewing, braided rugs, needle felting, knitting and crochet are other mediums a visually impaired artist may use. Experienced Needle Artists who have recently lost vision can continue to pursue their textile art/craft using a few adaptive blind techniques.
Contributions to the study of visual impairments
The ways in which the visually impaired are able to create art are giving new insights into the study of sight loss. For example, Ann Roughton is a landscape artist suffering from Macular Degeneration. Her paintings not only include what she can see with her partial vision, but her work also includes the grey haze that she sees in the center in her vision as a result of her Macular Degeneration. In doing so, she is literally painting sight, giving a new perspective on sight loss.
There are many organizations around the world that offer assistance to the blind. There are also some that offer assistance and support specifically for blind artists.
One example of these organizations in the United States is the Blind Artists Society, a support group for visually impaired amateur artists. Founded in 2007, the organization is funded by the Retina Research Foundation [not in citation given] and seeks to provide an environment where artists can gather to display and sell their art, communicate with other artists and receive support. The organization also organizes periodic exhibitions of the work of blind artists.
List of professional blind artists
- Eşref Armağan is a Turkish artist born without eyes.
- Keith Salmon is a visually impaired artist working in Ayrshire, Scotland.
- Sergej Popolsin is a Russian painter who - after he had studied at the College of Arts in Irkutsk, Russia - lost his eyesight completely as a result of a serious head injury. He now lives and works in Vienna, Austria.
- Giovanni Gonelli, blind Italian sculptor of the 1600s.
- John Dugdale is a photographer who has lost most of his eyesight to CMV retinitis.
- Arlissa Vaughn is a visually impaired painter, with a progressively blinding condition called retinitis pigmentosa.
- Michael Williams is an award winning visually impaired painter, born with Stargardt's Disease working in Memphis, TN.
- Mathew Lorentz Black is an abstract street artist in Sacramento CA. going blind from neo vascular glaucoma
- BlindArt, a charity which promotes the enjoyment of art for visually impaired people
- Elisabeth Salzhauer Axel, Art beyond sight: a resource guide to art, creativity, and visual impairment (American Foundation for the Blind, 2003).
- Jonathan Harchick, Drawing & the blind: pictures to touch (Yale University Press, 1993).
- Hannah Mcpherson, “Cultural geographies in practice: Between landscape and blindness: some paintings of an artist with macular degeneration,” Cultural Geographies 15, no. 2 (April 2008): 261-269.
- Blind Artists Society
- Retina Research Foundation INC.
- Blind Art UK non-profit organization to help blind arts.
- Disability Arts Online
-  The Danuki Ensemble - Inclusive Practice
- Blindness & Arts
- Art Beyond Sight Art Education for the Blind.
- Disability Art development Agency UK organization for disabled, visually impaired and deaf artists.
- Arnold Reynolds Bursary - UK For Blind & Disabled Artists.