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Art

The Vision and Art Project Helps Artists with Sight Loss Fulfill Their Vision

How do painters deal 
with vision loss? 
They keep painting.

December 12, 2018
BY Andy Smith

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  • COURTESY RACHEL WALLS FINE ART
    Dahlov Ipcar, "Flapper Jungle," 1927, Gouche.
  • COURTESY OF RACHEL WALLS FINE ART
    Dahlov Ipcar, "Harlequin Jungle," 1972, Oil on linen.
  • COLLECTION OF AMDF
    Thomas Sgouros, "Remembered Landscape 10," 2010, Oil on linen.
  • COLLECTION OF AMDF, GIFT OF EVE AND MATTHEW LEVINE
    David Levine, "Thomas Friedman," 2003, Ink and pencil on paper.
  • COLLECTION OF NANCY WARREN
    William Thon, "Birch Trees," 1996, Acrylic and ink on paper.
  • COLLECTION OF BEATRICE FRANK
    Serge Hollerbach, "Four Figures," 1985, Gouache with pen on paper.
  • COLLECTION OF BEATRICE FRANK
    Serge Hollerbach, "Homeless," 1988, Acrylic on linen.
  • COURTESY OF LEIGH MORSE FINE ARTS
    Lennart Anderson, "Lion’s Mask," 2007, Oil on board.
  • COLLECTION OF AMDF, GIFT OF CLAIRE NIVOLA
    Hedda Sterne, "Insect, August 23, 1999," 1999, Charcoal, graphite, and oil pastel on paper.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Edgar Degas, and Titian were all luminaries in their respective eras of art history, but there’s another commonality among the trio: Experts believe all three had macular degeneration, a condition in the retina marked by a loss or blurring of vision. Writer A’Dora Phillips and artist Brian Schumacher, the co-founders of The Vision and Art Project, began researching the topic nine years ago and quickly learned it isn’t an issue that’s going away anytime soon. The incurable eye disease is still a leading cause of major vision loss for adults over 50. But did you know nearly 80% of the visual system exists in the brain? Pair this with the intimate relationship between touch and sight, A’Dora says, and we see how vision is much more mysterious than you may think. 

“Before I started this project, I still thought of visual experience and visual arts in very limited ways, as being only connected to the eyes,” A’Dora says. “What I’ve learned through researching and talking to artists today is that the visual experience is in the body in many other ways as well. It’s not limited to the acuity of our vision. Vision and the haptic sense of touch are intimately connected.”

COURTESY OF VISION AND ART PROJECT
The Vision and Art Project, an initiative led by A’Dora Phillips and Brian Schumacher, provides artist support and public education. It’s supported by the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Artists, she says, are tapped into that. “When they no longer have access to the acuity they’re used to, often these other aspects will help compensate. You see how their work changes with them.”

Consider the abstract quality of Serge Hollerbach’s painting, which came to the forefront when he faced the disease. He says he relied on his “third eye,” calling it “something your spirit or your mind or your soul sees,” A’Dora says.

Stories like these helped to form The Vision and Art Project, documenting and providing resources for living artists struggling with vision loss. A’Dora and Brian continue to share through exhibits like “Persistence of Vision” above (see samples in the gallery above), film, and writing. A film about American painter Robert Andrew Parker, A Is for Artist, made with Cathleen O’Connell of Desert Penguin Pictures, began screening in summer 2018. A public screening will take place on January 12, 2019, at The Cornwall Library. 

COLLECTION OF AMDF
Dahlov Ipcar, 'Anubis and His Court,' 1972, Oil on canvas.
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