An Introduction to Touch

Loughborough College of Art & Design

December 1994

For the majority of people touch-art is a form of access to art useful only to visually impaired people. There is no denying that there have been huge leaps forward as a consequence of giving blind and partially sighted people the opportunities to touch works of art and encouraging them to create through touch. However, I would suggest that touch-art can appeal to a much wider audience. This was evident at a recent two-day workshop 'An Introduction to Touch' which I conducted at Loughborough College of Art and Design with a group of Foundation Studies students.

'An Introduction to Touch' was not set up for the purpose of explaining to fully sighted art students what it is like to appreciate and make art as a visually impaired person, but to help focus and further develop their own level of tactile perception. The two-day workshop at Loughborough involved taking thirteen students through a series of exercises to evolve a tactile way of working in clay using drawing, sound and touch.

Students at Loughborough Taking various techniques in charcoal, such as drawing with powdered charcoal and drawing with a putty rubber, I was able to encourage the students to use their methods of drawing in a more sculptural way in preparation for working with the clay. The first clay exercise I gave the students involved listening to different sounds of water, the bubbling brook, mountain stream, cloud burst and forest river. They then had to use these sounds to create an image in clay. The next exercise was to listen to a piece of music and, taking the mood it suggested, use the music to create an image in clay, only this time they had to use a blindfold. The next stage was to introduce the students to objects while wearing their blindfolds and use their tactile perception to create without the aid of visual imagery. The final stage of these exercises was to get the students to create objects to be held in the hand, again working with a blindfold and with a fossil as their source material.

Most of the students were surprised with what they had created, especially the work they had done using a blindfold, as this rarely matched their visual expectations. They all agreed that they would never have anticipated gaining so much tactile information from source material that appeared so visually unattractive. In addition, most of the students felt that they could use tactile source material in future projects and use the tactile images they create as sources for design drawings. Some were also fascinated by the possibilities for using touch to assess how their compositions worked in a tactile way and their sight to see how it worked visually.

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