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Molding a New Legacy in Art

Creative works stem from the heart and imagination of the individual and begin to take shape through the dexterity of the hands. Putting pen to paper, fingers to keys, or palm to clay, endless works of various art forms come into being. Yet such works are typically experienced by only one sense, and touch is commonly neglected. The sense of touch is one that sighted individuals typically neglect – most of one’s tactile environment is familiar and thus interpreted subconsciously, with only noxious stimuli such as a hot stove or a thorny bush drawing one’s attention. Persons with visual disabilities, on the other hand, are highly aware of the sense of touch and use tactile perception to navigate and interact with the world. Touch can evoke so many memories and emotions – the feel of a loved one’s hands, the careful knits that grandma wove together to produce a blanket, the grainy sand enveloping one’s toes like it did back at the old lakehouse. The sense of touch is one that should not be taken for granted, and should, in fact, be employed when experiencing art.

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Brandon Madden interacts with a clay cup by artist John Glick

Tactile artwork and the use of touch revolutionizes the museum experience for individuals with visual impairments. Unfortunately, the ability to touch is usually restricted. John Glick’s A Legacy in Clay exhibition opens up the door to touch, with an entire section of the exhibit open to interacting with the artwork. Glick’s handcrafted clay tableware was created with the intention of purposeful use, and as such visitors are encouraged to interact with the artwork, displayed on short tables that accommodate all heights and ages. Often, Glick creates his own tools, including those for imprinting designs onto his pieces before they are fired in the kiln. Some of these tools were also on display, so that one could feel the patterns molded into other clay pieces in the exhibit that were not available to touch. The exhibit states that “By handling the works, visitors can better appreciate both the process of crafting the objects and the experience of using them.”

Three tables of tools and pieces crafted by artist John Glick that are available to touch

Clay works certainly seem conducive to tactile interaction in an art museum, but how can works such as paintings and photographs be experienced in the same way? Many museums are investing in 3D printers that would have the potential to recreate an artwork into a multi-dimensional piece that can be touched. One may also ponder how the sense of touch may be incorporated into other art forms, such as music and dance. Providing the opportunity to audience members to touch practice instruments or be assisted by a dancer to be molded into a few positions key to the pieces, may add an element of touch that brings together artist and audience member. And of course, directly practicing an art form itself allows one to fully take part in that creative work.

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An up close image of a plate and a tool that imprints a design.

As accessibility practices become better integrated into existing infrastructures, so too must they become incorporated into the pleasurable indulgences of the masses, including art. The increasing popularity of art that is made to touch is one such way to do so and opens the door for further creative solutions.

The next time you are at an art museum, don’t be afraid to please touch the artwork.

John Glick’s A Legacy in Clay is on display at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills, MI until March 12, 2017. Event Details

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Details on the Touch Gallery, featuring John Glick’s clay pieces, at Cranbrook Art Museum

ArticlesLana Ruvolo Grasser