How Were These Tools Developed?
Theory and Research
Art education for people who are blind and visually impaired is a dynamic interdisciplinary field. It is a worldwide collaborative of sighted and blind scholars and researchers, education and museum professionals, artists and art enthusiasts. These researchers investigate issues such as blindness and perception, learning styles of blind and visually impaired students and the role of art in the psychological development of blind and visually impaired children. Learning tools discussed in this chapter evolved from this theoretical foundation.
Each discipline addresses a different set of questions and makes its unique contribution to the theoretical dynamics of the field and ultimately provides a foundation for lasting change in teaching strategies and educational and museum policies. Authors referred to below have articles in Chapter 3 of Art Beyond Sight: A Resource Guide to Art, Creativity, and Visual Impairment, Eds. Axel & Levent, ABS & AFB, 2003.
- Cognitive psychology: Cognitive research has focused on issues of blindness and perception, and tactile perception vs. vision. Much of this work is dedicated to studying specific issues such as understanding and creating outline drawings (Kennedy), processing of special reference information, understanding of such concepts as space and perspective (Heller, Gabias), understanding of surfaces, texture gradients, depth in tactile pictures (Jansson and Holmes), developing tactile exploration skills (Richardson).
- Educational psychology. Educators and educational psychologists are exploring blind students’ cognition and learning styles and their relevance to formulating a teaching strategy and developing curricula. Researchers in this field often refer to the practical aspects of blind student’s education such as integration of blind children into public school system. Up-to-date research in educational psychology helps us to understand the different kinds of mental representations, strategies and processes that blind students bring to the experience of viewing or making art (Pring and Eardley).
- Neuroscience. Neuroscientists are interested in multisensory perception, brain plasticity, cross-modal interactions between vision and touch, and recruitment of different parts of the brain in the process of visualization, tactile exploration, and drawing. Among other methods, they use MRIs to study the neural basis for blind people’s abilities to perceive and represent images. Another area of ongoing research is comparing brain activity in blind and sighted people when they process visual and tactile tasks.
- Social psychology. Social psychology looks into art education as a creative and expressive outlet for blind adults and children and how it can contribute to their personal development, confidence, their performance in other cognitive, creative and social areas.
- Philosophy. Philosophy may appear to be a field very distant from the real concerns of education and museum practitioners. However, philosophy deals with much of the conceptual blockage that prevents many people, educators among them, from thinking about a blind person’s art education. These authors use new research on blindness and perception to challenge our conventional notions of pictures and visual concepts (Lopes) or to question the assumption that appreciation of a picture through touch is just a variation of the visual appreciation (Hopkins).
Who Can Use This Research?
Museum Staff: Museum professionals or art educators will be more interested in topics such as the history of tactile pictures, perception of visual concepts through alternative senses, and art appreciation.
Educators and Art Therapists: Educators or art therapists will be more familiar with in-depth psychological research and can immediately connect much of this information to their professional experience. Some of the information may appear to have no immediate relevance to your daily experience as a practitioner. However, it is important know about state-of-the–art research when questioned by your school principal or by a parent. Professionals need to know that tools such as tactile diagrams are not experimental, but based on a body of research.