Monday, January 13, 2014

The Inner Eye

I haven't written recently of the Jewish Artists' Lab because I've been writing a separate blog for the group. It is a little different in style, more focused on sharing specific content, a bit less my own ruminations. Meanwhile I've been thinking about what I hope to work on for the Artists' Lab exhibition on the theme of Light later this year. 

I may try on more than one idea between now and then and will have an opportunity to explore some ideas through a sketchbook exchange. The project will involve trading a sketchbook between artists at labs in Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee. I am thinking the sketchbook project will allow me to test out ideas in perhaps a less finished form or at least on a smaller scale. I have to decide on a theme for the one I initiate and will respond to themes of four other artists. All themes will relate to light in some fashion.

Now what I am contemplating is vision. My friend has macular degeneration and is legally blind. I hang out with her a lot and we've talked a lot of her "handicap" as she puts it. I am also awestruck with the way she moves forward despite it. She has become my role model for how you deal with the challenges that ultimately befall each of us. As her friend I've had an opportunity to consider vision through her eyes. When I went to Poland with her she knew the city streets on which she grew up even though she couldn't see them. She talked of seeing in her mind's eye. So that's a kind of vision.
When she lost her vision, for a time she also lost her vision of her life as she had known it. She told me that life became worth living again when she discovered the Library of Congress had books on tape. Suddenly she could read again. My scope expands to loss of vision, both literally and a vision of how one imagined one's life, then regaining a vision of a renewed and different life.

I also think about magnified vision, how she translated her father's memoir from Yiddish with the help of a magnifying machine, one letter at a time. Again there are two kinds of vision, the vision she held of this book published and the act of using her limited vision to translate it.

I am always trying to gauge the extent of my friend's vision. Recently I took her to lunch and as I manipulated chopsticks, she said, "You can use those things?" To which I replied, "You can see those things?" She seems to notice movement or contrast, but can't see my face. I kneeled down and looked up."Now can you see me?," I asked wondering if I became non-central vision if it might help. "Not clearly", she replied. When I recently had my eyes examined they took a picture of the eye, an orange globe with blood vessels like tree limbs, actually quite beautiful. In the middle there is a yellow light. While I am sure there is some technical term that strips away the mystery, I like to think of it as the inner eye. I looked up macular degeneration and there was the image of how it looks in a diseased eye, still quite beautiful, but now with the result that central vision is destroyed and peripheral vision remains. I can see a painting with the central portion blurred out.

It dawned on me that the place where I had my eye exam might have a photo of my eye that they could share with me and sure enough they did. Now I need to contemplate if it might work as a background for other imagery on this theme. How I depict it in a cohesive and pleasing way remains to be seen, but my starting point is always a many layered idea.

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