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by Martha Pamperin

Definition: Art is the manipulation of materials to make objects which are interesting, beautiful, and/or fun to feel and handle.

Introduction

We tend to think of art experience in a visual way. We can see all parts of an art object which are facing us at the same time. We see how the parts are related to each other and to the whole. Though we tend to think of art in this spatial way, art also has a temporal aspect. This is most obvious when we view large pieces of sculpture or beautiful buildings. As we walk around the sculpture or through the building, the parts reveal themselves sequentially, as we move. Then the flow of the parts, one into the next, becomes an important part of the art experience. There is both a static spatial, and a flowing, temporal, aspect. For sighted people, the spacial aspect of art seems to dominate the temporal aspect.

For blind people it is the other way around. The art object is experienced as the hands and finger tips move over it, so experiencing tactual art objects is primarily a temporal, sequential one, and only secondarily spatial.

The materials of which art objects can be made have many qualities: color, shape, texture, and other qualities which are experienced kinesthetically, firmness, springiness, resistance to touch or movement, weight. Art for sighted children tends to emphasize color over all other qualities. Of course, for a blind person, color is not important. Texture, resistance to touch of the material's surface, variations in elevation from the surface, and weight are what is important.

Think of the things in your experience which are enjoyable and beautiful to touch and handle: A cashmere sweater, the handle and heft of a well-made and balanced tool, polished wood, a kitten's soft fur, a string of beads. Think about how these objects feel as your hands and finger tips move over them and when you turn them in your hands. The feel of the material as it moves under your finger tips and hands, the shape and weight of the object as you hold it, that is tactual/kinesthetic art appreciation- art from the point of view of a blind connoisseur.

Consider the art materials of the preschool and the elementary classroom: crayons, paint, various kinds of paper, glue, paste, play dough. All of the materials in this list except paper are either not perceptible by a blind child or offensive to the touch. What a blind child is likely to learn most powerfully in the early years is that art is unintelligible and unpleasant. Later blind children learn that they can make many art objects which are acceptable to the art teacher. They can glue paper shapes onto a big piece of paper. They can weave strips of paper through paper slits to make a place mat. They can cut along raised lines. They can, in short, learn to make all kinds of things which are visually acceptable if not particularly visually beautiful. But what of art appreciation and artistic production from their point of view?

The activities that follow describe art objects and processes which are all interesting, pleasurable and fun to touch and handle. They are designed to give blind children the opportunity to create objects of art which they, themselves can appreciate and enjoy and which they can use to express their personal creativity. Many include sound as one aspect of the art experience.

Stuff-n-stuff

General process: Crumple something; then stuff it into a bag; then close up the bag. Bags can be assembled and arranged in some way. The result will be fun to touch and squeeze and generally fun to play with.

Materials:

  1. Things to crumple: Lots of things are fun to crumple: pieces of newspaper, pages torn from magazines, paper towels, sheets of plastic, tin foil, foam rubber, kleenex, rags, leaves, etc.
  2. Some kind of bag: Fairly small paper bags are easiest to handle. cloth bags, nylon stockings, socks, etc. could also be used.
  3. Something to keep the bags closed: Paper bags can be twisted closed. Scotch tape, string, rubber bands etc. could also be used.
  4. A container for crumpled things which are ready for stuffing: A cardboard box or other container will be needed unless each crumpled piece will be stuffed into a bag as soon as it is crumpled.
  5. (optional) something to hang finished bags from or attach the bags to: Bags can be tacked to a bulletin board, hung from a rope or string, glued or taped to cardboard or the sides of a cardboard box etc.

Activities:

Crumple the materials and toss into a box. Let the child play with the crumpled materials in the box. The child can reach into the box and play or climb right in and enjoy.

Bags filled with crumpled stuff can be squeezed, pounded, rolled between the hands and rolled over with the whole body.

The find-it game - Have a child or all the children in a class crumple materials and toss the crumpled pieces into a box or other container. When the container is full, let the children take turns finding an interesting object which you have or another child has hidden in the box.

Squeeze me board or squeeze me line - Each day have the child crumple a different crumpleable item and stuff a small bag. Vary the kinds of bags as well as the kinds of crumpleables. You can vary the shape of the bag as well as the material of which it is made. Tie each stuffed bag with a string and attach it to the side of a cardboard box, a bulletin board or other firm surface. Let the child select the place where the bag will go on the board. Allow opportunity for the child to explore and experience the resulting display.

Other games - Bags on strings can become indoor balls or punching bags.

Benefits:

While the child is having fun he/she will also

  1. Develop finger and hand strength
  2. Develop wrist and finger dexterity
  3. Learn more about the inside and outside shapes of containers
  4. Learn more about the properties of various materials used
  5. Learn a sequence of activities leading to a goal
  6. Learn to participate with a group and work with other children toward a common end.

Stringing Things

A wide variety of things can be assembled in a row by stringing them.

Materials:

  1. Stringables: cardboard tubes, beads, washers, nuts, macaroni, pieces of drinking straw, buttons, pieces of wood with holes, etc.
  2. Stringers: (Firm stuff is easier to use than wobbly stuff.) pipe cleaners, pieces of wire coat hanger, doweling, drinking straws, shoe laces, thin wire, rope, string, thread yarn
  3. (optional) Something to attach the string to or hang it from

Process:

For beginners, Secure one end of the stringer so that the stringables can't slide off. You can even secure one end through a hole in heavy cardboard; then scotch tape the cardboard and string end to the table top. The student then strings the stringables on the stringer. When the student is finished, the teacher can secure the free end of the string through another hole. The student can then explore and play with his/her creation, moving the materials back and forth on the string, tipping the cardboard so that the materials slide from one end to the other, turning the materials on the string and so on. Of course, the child may wish to wear his/her creation around wrist or neck or hang it by one end from the bulletin board.

Extensions:

If a variety of stringables is presented, the student will be able to explore what happens when items with holes of various sizes are strung on the same string (They may slide over one another). Older children can make stringable tubes by rolling paper and securing it with tape, string or rubber bands. These homemade tubes can be decorated.

Flat shapes with small holes in them can be used as separators to prevent one item from sliding over another.

Beads can be made from play dough or clay.

Hidden Collage

Almost anything can be stuck to a flat surface to make a collage. The problem with most collage activities for blind students is that it is hard to feel the picture without either getting the hands sticky with glue or dislodging the pieces. This problem can be solved by covering the collage with a piece of material such as old sheeting or some lighter material. The collage is observed by feeling the picture through the material. Crayon rubbing or paint can be added to the material after the collage is finished if appeal to sight is desired.

Materials:

  1. A firm, flat surface: cardboard, heavy paper, or other firm surface
  2. Something to stick to the surface: cardboard shapes, leaves, grasses, material, foam, string, etc. (the materials should not be too thick.)
  3. Something to make the materials stick: glue, paste, starch, tape etc. Starch is much less offensive to handle than is glue.
  4. A smooth, light weight piece of material such as old sheet material or nylon. Paper toweling can also be used.

Process:

  1. Attach the top edge of the material to the top back of the collage base so that the material can easily be pulled down to cover the picture at any time and then removed again.
  2. Stick the collage materials to the collage surface. Starch works well to stick paper, string or some kinds of material to the base. The whole surface of the base can be coated with starch. String or paper can be placed on the surface. It will stick but is easily removed and put somewhere else. The student can cover and check the picture periodically as it is in progress.

When the picture is completed, the material is stretched over the picture, folded under and the edges taped to the back so that the material covering the picture stays in place. If paper toweling is used, the toweling can be covered with a coat of starch (student can do this with finger tips). Then the toweling s gently pressed with the finger tips to mold it to the shapes b below.

To enjoy the picture, feel it through the material. For a visual affect, do a crayon rubbing on the material. This will not interfere with tactual enjoyment of the picture and will add visual interest.

Papier-Mache

Papier-mache can be made from just about any kind of shredded paper and/or paper strips mixed with just about any kind of liquid paste. Some combinations are much less pleasant to handle than others. Shredded paper toweling mixed with starch makes a papier-mache that is minimally messy and fairly nice to handle.

Papier-mache can be used any time you want to build up contours or relief on a surface. Use it to build up facial struct ure on masks, make relief maps or relief pictures.

Materials:

  1. Paper towels torn up into small pieces. (Other types of paper could be substituted.)
  2. Liquid starch (A thin flour paste could be substituted.)
  3. Cardboard or other flat material which makes a firm surface

Procedure:

  1. Shred the paper.
  2. Add enough starch to get all the paper wet.
  3. Mix until a moldable substance is achieved.
  4. Extra starch can be squeezed out.
  5. Place all or part of the mixture on the cardboard. Mold to the desired shape with the fingers.
  6. Several days may be required for drying.

Extensions:

  1. Before putting the papier-mache on the cardboard, cover the cardboard with construction paper, wrapping paper, or some other covering. The starch may not stick well to slick surfaces. Glue can be used to solve this problem after the papier-mache is dry.
  2. Before putting the papier-mache on the cardboard, cover the cardboard with a sheet of braille or other heavy paper having a raised line drawing. The papier-mache is then molded to the lines. This works well for making relief maps.
  3. Finish the papier-mache relief by covering it with a large piece of paper towel. Moisten the towel with starch and carefully press it down over the whole surface so that it adheres to the contours of the relief.
  4. Color the dimpaired papier-mache with water colors, crayon or tempera.
  5. Spray the relief picture from an angle so that the contours determine where the color will be.
  6. Make some kind of frame.

Other Ideas

Paper sculpture. Make paper sculpture by cutting or tearing paper, folding or twisting it, and taping, stapling, or pasting it onto a stable surface such as a piece of heavy paper or cardboard.

Sewing and weaving. Punch holes in paper, cardboard, or some other surface. Weave or sew through the holes. Use pipe cleaners, yarn, string, or anything else that is pleasant to handle and which can be poked through a hole.

Macromè. Start by using a firm base and heavy string. pipe cleaners, string, twine, rope of various textures and widths, laces, ribbon, etc. may all be timpaired. A three-strand braid is a fairly easy task to start with. Various knots and knot sequences can be learned after that.

Building toys. The problem with most building toys for young children is that most of them are made out of plastic. Choose types of building toys which stick together. Leggos, lincoln logs, bristle blocks and many others are commercially available.