How does my vision impairment affect my art-making?

I lost 80% of my vision suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 33. At first I feared I’d have to give up my love for art-making because I thought that seeing well was integral to art-making. Clearly I was wrong about this because famous and talented artists like Claude Monet and Edgar Degas both had significant vision-impairments!

Seeing well is only important for making photorealistic art

Many styles of art don’t rely heavily on seeing details or rendering what you see, and many artists may not be interested in representing a subject at all. In fact, since the invention of photography, many subsequent major art movements have pursued other priorities, such as colour, imagination, expressiveness, experimentation, paint technique, abstraction, simplification, storytelling, activism, and more.

Seeing is only one of many art-making skills

Artists also need to have skills and knowledge such as drawing skills, brushwork, colour-mixing and theory, composition and technical knowledge about our mediums of choice. We also use emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills to observe patterns in society, tune into our thoughts and feelings, reflect, make meaning, conceptualise, express ourselves, and tell stories. Creativity and imagination enable us to generate unique ideas.

Seeing is only one kind of observation

We have a multi-faceted sensory system through which we observe the world and our experiences of it. Alongside seeing, we taste, smell, touch, and hear. Paying attention to how your body feels, how you feel in your body, what you’re thinking and feeling, what memories are elicited, and what you feel connected to are all examples of other ways of observing that many artists draw on in the process of creating their artworks.

Eyes are only one part of the process of seeing

While the integrity of the structure of the eye plays an important role in seeing, seeing is also a cognitive process that is heavily shaped by who we are. Our thoughts, feelings, cognitive biases, past experiences, current knowledges and expectations, fears, values, interests, and personalities all shape what we look out for and what we don’t notice, as well as how we interpret and make use of what we see (and what we don’t see!).