Please watch the video about the work of the artist Esref Armagan at the end of this posting.
It presents a credible record of the process of a Turkish artist, Esref Armagan, born blind, who nonetheless draws and paints. Despite the ‘common sense’ impression one might have that this is a trick, his is not a ‘supernatural’ ability or parlor trick in which he attempts to convince us that the blind can see. The video demonstrates quite solidly how he is able to conceive of and draw what he can only touch and walk around.
This calm and humble man has the desire, as does any artist, to make images. What is unusual and provokes our interest is that he cannot see because he was born blind. Yet, he makes images of objects and places that he can only know by touching and moving through and around them, and presumably by hearing sound reflected and refracted from their surfaces. Listen closely outside to the echoes in a quiet public square. You will hear this effect when the environment is relatively free of motor noise. Go to Venice and learn that the whole city is an echoic symphony.
His memory of shape, form, and space are apparently a combination of tactile, kinetic, and probably acoustic (passive echo-location) sensory and cognitive abilities and skills.
I think that there are important lessons here! Mr. Armagan is not a freak talent but in some ways is an ordinary and true artist. For us who pour over images on websites, drawing and painting have become a kind of faux litmus test of intelligence and creativity in animals, and we have become accustomed to novel u-tube videos featuring elephants and other animals that can paint. We know chimps can make images of sorts. Those animals have been trained to draw by humans, and/or have found some pleasure in moving colors around. Those videos should not be compared in any way with this one. Blind people are not elephants.
This video documents a man making art using the neurological equipment and talents he was born with, just as do other artists, myself included, (sculpture).
Sculpture-making, at least for me, is a process, similar to the kind of 'seeing' Mr. Armagan describes and demonstrates. What he does is quite familiar. When I am working on a piece of sculpture, images of form 'arrange themselves' in my mind's eye. There is no ‘muse’ in my mind. I am doing the arranging, and the eye I speak of here is truly in my mind’s visual center, but it feels much as if I am watching a mind-controlled computer-graphics display filling out an image. This envisioning may occur voluntarily or involuntarily with my real eyes open or closed. I can do this any time I need to imagine an object. In any case, I choose to do much of my most successful decision-making and preparatory conceptualization work just as I am about to sleep in order to take advantage of the leverage of hypnagogic imagery.
Most often, when I am intensely creative and productive, I intentionally set aside some time before sleep to consciously think about alternative ways of solving a formal or other problem for the next day’s studio work, and am able to evolve and to ‘watch’ various alternative solutions develop on the screen of my mind. I have learned though that I must consciously ‘tell myself’ that I will remember all these images when I am awake and able to draw or write them to paper or computer. Occasionally, if I am fortunate, this process continues while I dream. This sleep-work is a great boost to my studio work.
These images, particularly the ones that I choose as the better ones, then become multi-sensory and sometimes synesthetic impressions. Nearly always they combine into visual ideas or visual thought having qualities of tactility, form, space, time, place (location), material (wood, steel, copper etc.), mass, weight, size, structure, balance, motion, color, texture, , light absorption and reflectivity, shadow, highlight, (and myriads of other qualities).
Visual thought integrates the relationships among all these parts, giving to my imagined sculpture a high degree of apperceived realism. I can rotate the envisioned object, observe it from various angles, inspect it internally and externally for contradictions and mechanical interferences and failures in structural logic. Making the piece the next day in the studio is then a matter of completing this previously envisioned solution, and inventing changes to it as the work progresses.
The analogy that comes to mind is as if my brain were able to compose, code, and send the output data (via a buffer) to a printer (my hands), to ‘print’ by representing the original visual thoughts in three dimensions, or more, (my work often involves movement and time). This print-out of the whole pre-conceived artwork develops like film in a darkroom tray as I work during the next days or weeks. Many of my pieces go on like this for a year or more.
All this internal envisioning and real-time studio work is a compelling experience that one does better as one works.
Now please watch the video.