Most go to art galleries to look at the art.
Many take only a few minutes to walk through, quickly glancing at each piece while their feet are constantly in motion.
Some stop to stare at paintings for a bit longer.
Few will spend time attempting to truly connect with the work of art. Even fewer will use any of their senses other than sight.
But Ruth Bieber is attempting to focus attention on the fact that there is a whole other world in the way art can be experienced.
Bieber, who has had limited vision since she was six years-old, approached the Kelowna Art Gallery after being introduced to a unique program while she was living in New York.
“When I went to New York, I had a bit of an opening in my life and was able to explore art for myself as an artist. At that point I met people from the program: Art Beyond Sight. They have a model where they invite gallery staff to become trained in helping people who are visually impaired experience the art. That’s what we brought here,” said Bieber.
Last Saturday, a group of blind and sight impaired individuals took part in Art Insight: From the Mind’s Eye, an event spawned by Bieber and hosted by the Kelowna Art Gallery.
The art tour gave participants in-depth descriptions of various paintings in the gallery. Texture samples were provided for some of the works so that the visually impaired could better understand what the paintings felt like.
Bieber said that her own love for art started at an early age. “I’ve always been interested in art. Before I lost my sight, I could enjoy it in the normal kind of way. I was quite good at art so that seed was already planted when I could see. As I grew and my vision deteriorated, the love of art didn’t fade.
“What that led to initially was an exploration of art as therapy. In my graduate studies degree I learned about the therapeutic value of all of the arts.”
Bieber always had a natural interest in the contextual issues of art. She said that this further understanding of art is sometimes even more understood by the visually impaired.
“Sometimes we can’t always feel the art with our fingers, but we can feel the art from an emotional perspective as the gallery staff explains and describes the art to us.
“Beyond that, we’re very interested in the artist. It’s lovely to meet the artist and to learn about the artist’s process, as well as what kind of art he does.”
Bieber said that the sight impaired constantly utilize their imagination when trying to connect with art.
The false assumption that sight is required to enjoy art isn’t only made by people who can see, according to Bieber.
“It’s not just the general public who often feel that people who are sight impaired can’t appreciate art, but many people who are blind believe that about themselves as well. That’s why it’s wonderful to not just educate the gallery staff and the general public, but the visually impaired as well.”
Renee Burgess, head of public programming at the Kelowna Art Gallery, said that this is the third event that the gallery has run for the visually impaired. “We try as hard as we can to be accessible to everyone. That means reaching beyond our boundaries and working with visually impaired,” said Burgess.
Burgess said that Bieber’s efforts have been greatly appreciated by the gallery. “Ruth was really the driving force. She came to myself and the director and promoted this project. We brought in a woman to train us on how to talk about art with the visually impaired.”
Bieber is currently planning to open an exhibit at the gallery in the fall of 2012, which will feature the works of blind artists.