Rebecca McGinnis, Access Coordinator, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Egyptian Touch Tour at the Met 5:32
One of the objects on the Egyptian touch tour at the Met is the face shown on the screen, a giant Sphinx. It’s about twelve feet long of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut, and when you look at this Sphinx you really can’t see with the eye -- and even on close observation unless you look really really carefully with your eyes -- that she has very carefully carved ribs. Her rig cage however, is clearly distinguishable by touch. At the Met we are continuing to learn and develop ways to make art accessible to all visitors by incorporating touch and other senses into our programming. Now we would like to share with you some of the work that we do incorporating the senses into our programs. So we know that touch is not enough on its own, we’ve heard about that today and we continue to look at that. There are two things I wanted to bring up that are very important aspects to our planning to programs that involve touch. One is the vital importance of guidance in the form of description, what we call verbal imaging here at the Met, and we’ll talk more about that. The second thing is the encouraging of active touch in a meaningful way, a way that has a clear purpose and goal and not just touch for the sake of touching something. An example of this is really again the Hatshepsut Sphinx. This piece had been heavily restored at the early part of the century when restoration practice involved making the restoration blend in so that you can hardly tell there has been restoration, although big chucks of the piece are in fact missing. To the naked eye it’s difficult to perceive, but it’s very clear when you are touching that the restored areas are warmer to the touch than the granite and they are actually smoother, so the temperature and the texture are different, and those are characteristics of the object that you can’t get by looking, and they are very important characteristics, and just that experience of different temperatures and textures bring up a couple of different issues about the history of the object. Firstly, why was the sculpture broken, why was this sculpture smashed into thousands of pieces? Which brings up its ancient history. It also brings up restoration and the way museums have restored and conserved objects in more recent history. So touch can really bring up some important historical aspects of the object here that are not so obvious from sight.
This image is an image of some visitors touching a sculpture of the Egyptian Goddess Sakhmet. The work of art, as I said, is being described to them, they are not asked just to touch this without any information. The aim of the description is to build up a mental image or to help them use the sight that they have to understand the object and the way it was made, the materials it was made from, and its history. When we are doing this, when we are planning our touch tours, we have to think about the different qualities of touch and vision. One important consideration is time; it takes a lot longer because touch is sequential, not instantaneous, because you have to touch each part of a sculpture and build up an idea of it. It takes a lot longer; it's more taxing to the memory, distraction is a bigger issue perhaps. Also, of course, touch is immediate and not remote like sight, so only one person or a few at a time can touch an object at time if it's a large object, so that is reflected in the amount of time it takes to do a touch tour, so these are just some of the things we consider. And, finally, another image of guided touching, of an educator working with a person who is blind to learn about specific aspects of a sculpture on the tour.