Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching Art to Blind Children: My New Job

I have a new job teaching art at the Academy for the Blind. Until I saw on the school's marquee that there was an opening, it hadn't occurred to me that such a job could exist. It does. Considering that there's only one (maybe two) schools for the blind in any given state, and each of those schools may or may not have an art teacher, I feel especially lucky to land such a challenging and fulfilling position!

My students' ages range from four to nineteen, and their visual and learning abilities are as varied as their ages. Because the needs are diverse, the classes are small, sometimes only two or three students at a time. This has allowed me to get to know and love the children very quickly.

I started my first full week, ironically, with an Op Art assignment. Optical illusions may not mean much to most blind, but the line is the simplest of art elements and repetition isn't a hard concept to grasp.

This student exclaimed, "I did it!" after drawing each line. It warmed my heart to think of all the encouragement she's received during her short life. I love the sense of movement in this simple piece.

Week two I plunged into color theory, which is difficult, even students without visual disabilities. In fact, I have taught many college students with 20/20 vision who made it through childhood without learning their color wheel. Luckily, these kids were up to the challenge of mixing the three primary colors to get secondary and tertiary colors in even steps.

Here is another Op Art project using line and repetition in complimentary color schemes.

 Piet Mondrian and Roy Lichtenstein are favorite artists to study when learning about primary colors and triadic color schemes. You can see from this picture how close most of my students need to get to the paper in order to see what they are doing. This Mondrian-style piece was done on braille paper.

The student who created the red piece in the upper right said, "This is really beautiful. Do you think people will like it?" We discussed Picasso's Blue Period before making our own monochromatic paintings. I believe that teaching art history and formal design principles is what separates real art lessons from mindless craft time. I want to give kids the tools to make informed aesthetic choices to better communicate ideas.

The youngest students have done crayon rubbings of various textures and created textures in salt dough by stamping it with objects. We are also making and decorating newspaper hats. I've only been at the school for a few weeks but so far I am loving it. I pinch myself every morning.