Touching with the Eyes...
Seeing with the Hands...

by Loretta Secchi

Tactile perceptions and interiorization of the meaning of shapes.

To see a painting with touch means to read its concrete and invisible signs, perceiving it like a cognitive model without forgetting the involvement of senses, the freshness of emotions and the intellectual function, essential factors in the presence of art. This is the experience that the Anteros Tactile Museum at the Institute for the Blind Francesco Cavazza has been offering since 1999, through lessons of art history, tactile perceptions of tridimensional raised lines and shapes, which translate famous pictorial works of art and clay modelling labs for people who are blind and visually impaired, of any age, culture and background.
There is here the opportunity to verify how the “essential” approach to a work of art is a strength of the “cognitive look” common to the tactile and optical experience, and how it is linked to the courage to abstain from the quantity of information, favouring instead a knowledge of quality. In frequent opportunities of dialog with visitors, we are brought to think about the silence and the eloquence of images, the beauty of the forms bearing a sense and the interiorization of the sense of art, the substance of the aesthetic experience as the sharing of codes of representation and communication of existential content. In many cases it is possible to gather the precious function of discreet listening, the touch of a hand, comparable to the caress of a look: also thanks to that, a reciprocity in the exchange of competence can happen, taking its source in the technical approach to the tactile perception and which outcome leads to the expansion of the tactile sense.
If learning about a work of art also means to connect with ourselves in another way and embrace what goes beyond that, touching with the eyes and seeing with the hands is a concrete act in the theory of art and in the study of the processes of seeing to feel and understand.
In 2006, the Anteros Tactile Museum acquired two important tridimensional works: the Renaissance painting by Andrea Mantegna, The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, and the romantic painting by Caspar David Friedrick, Monk by Sea. They are two different and highly intense ways to understand the sacredness. In art, ideas and feelings find a representation of their codifying translation, but something escapes the code and communicates through an invisible language: this wealth in art is preserved and, when possible, interiorized. Reading the signs of a distorted Christ perspectively in respect of the decorum and perceiving in a sublime landscape of the early nineteenth century the openness to an infinite silence, not mute, can mean to all, sighted and non sighted, the understanding that exists a phenomenology of the invisible and a knowledge of seeing in the details, hidden, the sense of things. In the famous reflexions that accompany Mantegna's and Friedrich's aesthetic research, artists whose periods, culture, origin and thinking are so distant, there is a similarity: both make use of the faculty called creative imagination which "in part perceives, in part creates the world" and makes one say "close your physical eye, so that you can see with your spiritual eye". The truth of nature and man resides in the conscience, the eye does not only have the duty to scan the paintings' surface, passing in review motives and having the pleasure to recognize things, the eye is obligated to go beyond the sensitivity when exploring new facets in oneself.

Picture of students guided in the tactile perception of the dynamism of The Great Wave

The reserved Mantegna and the mystic Caspar David Friedrich were courageous experimenters, lovers of a solitary humanity, not solipsistic, and even for that we have chosen to dedicate ourselves to the study of tridimensional tactile perceptions of the values of shapes, compositions and content of their works. In both experiences, there is space for profound spell and conscious meditation, moving from pleasures and wounds, from the nostalgic sentiment or from the vital strength, from the desire of belonging to the serene detachment: the soul's conditions that every mind contemplates. In concluding this brief presentation of the Anteros Tactile Museum of the Institute for the Blind Francesco Cavazza, we take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who, for years, has contributed, with strong commitment, to the growth of this structure allowing it to further its research on tactile perception, hence fostering the school, professional and social integration of people living with vision loss who wish to learn how to develop their skills through aesthetic education.

Picture of tactile reading of raised lines and shapes with sensors