University of Edinburgh

Exploring the Role of Creativity in VI Education

Presented on 12 June 2009

Dr David Feeney, VIScotland

Creativity & Orders of Knowledge

First Step?

First step towards incorporating the benefits of outdoor engagement within your institution: What can be done with your school-ground?

Grounds for Learning:

our school grounds

the world's worst playground

what people think

first impressions

safe in your school grounds

safe havens

The Ofsted View on the Perceived Dangers of Outdoor Activities

Chief Inspector David Bell:

  • The benefits of outdoor pursuits are under threat because of perceived risk.
  • One of the best ways to help children learn about risk is to teach them how to deal with difficult and tricky situations by letting them experience them in controlled situations.
  • Appropriate training will give teachers the confidence to present their pupils with appropriate challenges.
  • Guidelines of recognised good practice should be disseminated and followed.

Risk & Avoidance in VI (Art) Education

Hayhoe & Task Avoidance among VI Learners

  • Hayhoe applied Doyle's theory of perceived risk, task ambiguity and task avoidance, to the experiences of visually impaired art students.
  • For the majority of the older people he encountered in his research, their 'art education' did not extend beyond basket weaving.
  • This had a profoundly negative effect on the range of creative tasks they were willing to undertake throughout the rest of their lives.

Risk Aversion

I never got the opportunity to learn the piano as I would have liked. And, strange as it may seem, and strange as it may sound, I think initially, until fairly recently, ... I've almost, in a way, been scared of the piano. It's something I wanted to do, and rather than treat the piano as a friend (and that's what you have to do), I almost thought of it as an enemy (Hugo, Hayhoe, p 64)

Hayhoe's research into the relations between education, confidence and self-esteem revealed:

  1. It is difficult to apply correctives in later life to self-esteem issues arising from lack of early opportunity.
  2. People who were competently educated in an arts-based subjects tended to develop a passion for experimentation.
  3. Teachers are often inadvertently complicit in their students' task avoidance strategies.

Sensory Hierarchy, Creativity & Arts Education

Psychology and Art of the Blind, Géza Révész

... form is a predominantly visual function

The blind ... are unable to force their way into the realm of Aesthetics

  • aesthetic attitude and aesthetic experience are ... a field to which a person working haptically has no access or only a restricted one
  • all the principles of form creation, all the forms of aesthetic contemplation, all the criteria of aesthetic appreciation are based on visual perception
  • The aesthetic experience seems ... to be entirely incompatible with the basic character of haptic apprehension

Inevitable emphasis within haptic appreciation on the accuracy of the artist's execution.

The quality of a work of art is assessed by blind persons in terms of the extent of the divergence of the object under consideration from the 'norms' of beauty, the criteria for which are established by their aesthetic tuition.

The rejection of a lot of fine art, which, having been conceived according to alternative aesthetic principles, does not meet the aesthetic demands of the educated blind person.

Much of the vitality of the art of today stems from the impulse of the modern artist toward the disruption of continuity of line and pattern, the avoidance of hackneyed expression, and the departure from preconceived shapes and plans.

Only vision is capable of raising the sensory impressions into the sphere of aesthetic contemplation.

The characteristic feature of much contemporary art is its undermining or spoiling of the surface coherence that exhausts the spectrum of haptic perception.

Art, from the time of its most primitive manifestations, according to Révész, has been 'tuned to the visible world' and 'ruled by the visible image'.


Admitted that "everything that is form is only recognised by touch, and only surface is recognised through vision," but conceded

"Beauty derives its name from seeing, from appearance, and it is through seeing, through beautiful appearance, that it is most easily recognised and valued"

Hildebrand on non-visual art appreciation

Hildebrand: "All reality is of importance for the creative arts only insofar as it manifests itself in the visual image".

We should determine whether the avowed feelings of blind persons for a work of art are explainable in aesthetic terms or in terms of some external factor such as the knowledge they have accumulated about the piece in the course of their aesthetic education.

Now, all the beauty that they once experienced through the sense of sight, all the pleasure that burned and pained at the sight of true beauty, is cut off. To stand now in the presence of a delicately or majestically beautiful object, to know that it is there in front of one, and yet to be unable to contemplate it, is a different pain, a pain without pleasure but with only terrible frustration.

And to stand by impotently while someone ineptly tries to describe something beautiful, tries to capture and communicate it in stupid words–here can be a source of sorrow indeed. (Carroll 1961: pp 57-58)

On the grounds that the pleasure of looking at things is derived from the presence of these things rather than their strictly visual qualities, Carroll expresses confidence that:

"[t]he various kinds of pleasure once afforded to the blinded person by looking at things that were ‘good to see,’ can be almost completely restored"

Judging from his work with blind people, he estimates that as few as two out of every fifteen people who become blind feel intensely the loss of the ability to perceive beauty.

More Thoughts!

  • Pierre Villey, Thomas Cutsforth, and Alan Eaton have discussed the relation of blind people to beauty
  • Eaton is adamant that "the enjoyment of beauty through senses of perception other than sight can be as genuine, as sensitive, as deep as human beings can experience"

The role of the intellect:

  • Thomas Cutsforth:
    "aesthetic growth does not take place so much through the senses of perception as it does through the entire intellectual development.."
  • Hugo Meynell:
    "aesthetic satisfaction characteristically consists of satisfaction gained from exercise and enlargement of the capacities constitutive of human consciousness"
  • Pierre Villey:
    accounts of the aesthetic aspects of experience "depend on the impressions which come ... from all the senses, from the least to the noblest"

Alan Eaton:

  • "the experience of beauty is a response, not to the special sense which perceives it, but to the whole intellectual and emotional being; it is a response of the full personality"

  • "any one of the senses of perception ..., through its recognition of a beautiful stimulus, is sufficient to set the whole intellectual and emotional life into vibration and thus bring about aesthetic experience"
  • argues that a reciprocal enhancement of aesthetic awareness can occur if communication between sighted and blind people is encouraged.
  • He insists on the necessity of countering the effect of the three obstacles which have traditionally deflected attention from the role of beauty in the experience of blindness, namely:
    • a general indifference among sighted people to aesthetic values;
    • the commonly held assumption that beauty is of concern only to those with conventionally functioning eyes; and
    • the emphasis on more 'practical' concerns in the vocational training and rehabilitation of blind people.
  • Through their heightened awareness, for example, of "the cold of crystal, the warmth of amber," blind people have privileged access to qualities that will never be seen and so rarely discovered by sighted people because of the rivalry of more immediately obvious visual distractions.
    "the total response to the stimulus ... is not what the perceiving sense registers, but what the brain or the mind makes of this perception"
  • [t]here are instances in which the qualities that a blind person can perceive in an object make it more prized to him than to one who can see. There is the possibility too, that because of his deep interest in, and perhaps affection for, only a few things, those for which he does care will mean more.
  • The sense of touch allows of as many gradations as the sense of sight. A blind friend of Eaton pointed out to him that a "keen touch, a utilitarian touch, is not the same as an appreciative touch" (Ibid: p 21).
  • Eaton, in turn, points out to the reader that "we whose sense of touch is quite crude should be careful not to place any limits on the tactual perception of any blind person"
  • The three main qualities which are central to the aesthetic experience of sighted people, as Eaton describes it - material, function, and form - are all knowable through touch.

  • More peripheral features, such as proportion, motion, temperature, rhythm, and flow of line, are also all available to blind people in different ways.
  • This observation forms the basis of Eaton's argument that "the blind person can have a good and satisfying hold on beauty" (Ibid: p 25).
  • He singles out for special attention "the blind person's" heightened appreciation of the materials of beauty.
  • Because vision can take in material at a glance, the eyes do not usually linger long enough to encourage a sustained contemplation of that particular component of beauty, but will fix and shift their attention elsewhere.
  • This attribute of hastiness and impatience can preclude visual encounters from a comprehensive appreciation of the spectrum of impressions that sites of beauty are capable of yielding.

Stars not of Fire

There is no effect of form which an effect of material could not enhance, and this effect of material underlying that of form, raises the latter to a higher power and gives the beauty of the subject a certain poignancy, thoroughness and infinity which it otherwise would have lacked. The Parthenon, not in marble, the King's crown not of gold, and the stars not of fire, would be feeble and prosaic things... (Santayana 2005: p 44)

"it can be an aesthetic experience of high order, comparable to that enjoyed by a sighted person who attains it through another avenue of perception"  (Eaton)

If we are conscious of touch as a way to knowledge we are, perhaps without knowing it, on our way to beauty  GO to nature of knowledge: discursive/propositional vs sensory/immediate.

Creativity, VI, & Orders of Knowing

The Importance of Instilling a Sense of Spontaneity in the Classroom

The future is best known by those who prepare for it, and those who have order in their soul are best prepared. Order is neither ordained nor exclusive with the blind, but since ordering one’s life and work is so much more important when blind, like a secondary sense it becomes emphasized. Perhaps it was only the sharpening of that logic of order that Zeus bestowed on Tiresias. (Hine 1993: p 180) 

The Role of Order

Aestheticians have frequently described beauty as a manifestation of a distinctive ordering principle.

In Plato's Philebus, for example, Socrates assures Protarchus, "measure and commensurability emerge always as what constitute fineness and excellence" (Plato 1997: 46e, p 454).

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle claims, the "chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness, which the mathematical sciences demonstrate in a special degree" (Aristotle 1928: 8, book 13, ch 3, section 1078b).

More Philosophy (Sorry!!)

In Berkeley's Alciphron, having been asked by Euphranus whether "all mankind" are "agreed in the notion of a beauteous face?" Alciphron replies with a question of his own: "But with regard to other things is there no steady principle of beauty? Is there upon earth a human mind without the idea of order, harmony and proportion?" (Berkeley 1993: Dialogue 3, Section 8, pp. 65-66).

A little later in the Dialogue, we are informed that 'Alciphron, after a short pause, said that beauty consisted in a certain symmetry or proportion pleasing to the eye' (Ibid: p 66).

  • "Had we no such sense of beauty or harmony," Francis Hutcheson claims, "houses, gardens, dress, equipage, might have been recommended to us as convenient, fruitful, warm, easy, but never beautiful" (Hutcheson 1973: p. 38).
  • In more recent times, Monroe Beardsley has maintained, "What distinguishes beautiful things from ordinary things is a high degree of some kind of order"; (Monroe Beardsley, "Order and Disorder in Art," in Kuntz 1968: p 192).
  • Harold Osborne has tried to explain the kind of order which distinguishes works of art and instances of naturally occurring beauty from other objects. He suggests, "our aesthetic proclivities stem from an appetite for immediately apprehensible Order whose allure parallels that which drives scientists to seek rational Order throughout the universe" (Osborne 1982: pp 3, 14).

Osborne (RIP) on Order

Harold Osborne on feelings towards art and non-art objects:
"our aesthetic proclivities stem from an appetite for immediately apprehensible Order whose allure parallels that which drives scientists to seek rational Order throughout the universe" (Osborne 1982: pp. 3, 14).

Order, Creativity & Visual Impairment

"If the blind are so susceptible to order," Hine reasons, "and since order is fundamental to beauty (proportion, balance, grace), then one would expect that the blind have a special appreciation of the beautiful."

See Handout

Spontaneity and Creativity

  • role played by order and organization in the lives of visually impaired people
  • psychological reaction to situations of chaos and disorder
  • develop understanding of the extent to which the utilization of 'prior knowledge' of people, events, and places permits blind people to impose great control over their lives
  • the 'cost' to blind people of such order, in terms of their creativity and spontaneity
  • Explore methods of facilitating spontaneity in VI education

Emphasis on Order & Memorisation

Blind children need training both in identifying the information that should be remembered and in remembering that information. This training should be continued until remembering has become a habit and they no longer have to remember to remember (Ericson & Chase, 1982)

Order & Imagination

A hard habit to break is counting steps.
(Hine 1993: p 164)

I feel for the edge of the top step with my toes, and I count the number of steps. In fact I carry in memory every set of stairs.
(Kuusisto,  pp 134-135)

Familiarity, predictability, the same objects, the same people, the same routes, the same movements of the head in order to locate this or that: take these away and the blind person is transported back into the infantile state where one simply does not know how to handle the world, how to enter into it and to control it, how to exist in a relationship to that world, where the hard-won balance between trust and fear threatens to be upset ...

Order, Risk & Creativity

  • Hine's "need to live intensely"
  • Potok, weary of interminable deliberation, craves "movement, a leap, a risk" (Potok 1980: p 3).
  • Minton and the documentary crew who turned his floor into a minefield (Minton 1974: p 126).
  • "What the hell's supposed to be wrong with him? ... He's got eyes like a hawk!" (Bjarnhof 1960: p 63).

Stephen Kuusisto on order & memory (Planet of the Blind)

[I]t is the unfamiliar or the unexpected that can catch me ... blind I'm a fatted failure; posing as a sighted person I'm on a terrible high-wire (Kuusisto, p 42).

In the heart of every blooming and buzzing confusion I found a signpost, something to guide me back along my untutored path. (Kuusisto 1998: p 11)

At least one constraint of blindness actually suited me. I loved order and was ... weird enough to enjoy being organized,

If I could conquer blindness by organization, he recalls resolving, I would do it, step by step. The process itself was victory (Hine: pp 95-96).

From now on, every pace I take will be a self conscious act. (Minton 1974: p 55)

[t]he unknown is worse, an epic terrain that, in the mind’s eye, could prevent a blind person from leaving home (Kuusisto 1989: p 63).

Hine, Hull, and Kuusisto each feel that the encompassing of their lifestyle within rigid ordering principles entails relinquishing great freedom that sighted people take for granted.

"Not long after" the onset of blindness, Hine recalls, "one bids farewell to spontaneity and quits"; Hine pp 51-52).


Doing something on a whim.

The orderliness of blind life cautions against or says "no" to acting on such spur-of-the-moment decisions (Hine 1993: p 95). I felt something disquieting about my ordered life. The advantage that organisation provided for me housed its dark side - ;the brooding uneasiness that the requisite order breeds habit and that habit blocks creativity. One could survive blindness, adapt very well, but never again be a free, creative spirit. There was the rub; this was the worry. (Hine,  pp 94/95)

Order, Creativity and the Individual

"Roaming in needy tandem" (Kuusisto)

Blindness demands dependence and cooperation, like the buttons on the back of a Shaker shirt, sewn there, deliberately unreachable, to teach the brotherhood of mankind. (Hine, 188-189)

Maybe I can be Blind Lemon, follow Shepard to Boulder. But then there's the dependence thing. Who could live like Blind Lemon and follow someone around, wait on strange streets for Leadbelly to return with a sausage and a jar of whiskey? (Kuusisto 1998: p 93)

Ideas? Ideas for Independence-forming exercises that have worked for you in the past?

Language & Experience

The relation of blind people to the beauty of art and nature is complicated by two major factors: the non-experiential nature of their familiarity with such beauty, compounded by the necessity of direct experience for its appreciation. (See Handout)

Distance and the privileging of vision (See Handout)

Consequences for VI art education and access

Nature as a key to reversing this marginalising preference

Her laugh was not in the middle of her face quite,
As a gay laugh springs,
It was plain she was anxious about some things
I could not trace quite.
Her curls were like fir-cones - piled up, brown, -
Or rather, like tight-tied sheaves: It seemed they could never be taken down ...

And her lips were too full, some might say:
I did not think so. Anyway,
The shadow her lower one would cast
Was green in hue whenever she passed
Bright sun on midsummer leaves.
Alas, I knew not much of her,
And lost all sight and touch of her!

If otherwise, should I have minded
The shy laugh not in the middle of her mouth quite,
And would my kisses have died of drouth quite
As love became unblinded?
Thomas Hardy, 1884.


Difficulty with Face Recognition

Face recognition requires good visual acuity and contrast sensitivity.

  • If these are impaired then its going to get tricky seeing faces clearly in any case
  • Who they are
  • What gender
  • What emotion

Types of Facial Recognition failure

  • Apperceptive prosopagnosia: Faces make no sense and cannot extract any information
  • Associative prosopagnosia: Can identify elements of faces but can't join this information up to their 'memory' so can't recognise

Ideas for Exercises related to Face/Portrait/Identity

What has worked? Masks Outlines of body portrait?

Perspectives on Touch

... Grief surges over me. His face is not two feet from mine, my son Théophile sits patiently waiting - and I, his father, have lost the simple right to ruffle his bristly hair, clasp his downy neck, hug his small lithe warm body tight against me. There are no words to express it.
Jean-Dominique Bauby (1997)
The Diving Bell & the Butterfly

Perspectives on Touch

Then there was the question of whether Rabin and Arafat would shake hands. I knew Arafat wanted to do it... I told Yitzhak that if he was really committed to peace, he’d have to shake Arafat’s hand to prove it, "The whole world will be watching, and the handshake is what they’ll be looking for." Rabin sighed, and in his deep, world-weary voice, said, "I suppose one does not make peace with one's friends." Then you'll do it?" I asked. He almost snapped at me. All right. All right. But no kissing."
Bill Clinton, 2004,
My Life

clinton, rabin and arafat

Touch in the Classroom

Has anything proved to be particularly effective for you in the past?

Perspectives on Smell

  • If everything were smoke, all perception would be smell
  • Traditionally connected with personal identity and social status
  • Perceived inconsequence of olfaction: In a study by Synnott (1993), smell was deemed the least useful and treasured sense and the first one people would sacrifice
  • Strong connection to nostalgia that might be profitably exploited in classroom
  • Popularity of scented consumer products, aromatherapy, designer room sprays, gardening, health spas etc
  • Strongly evocative of place - circus, beach, hospital etc

... Then one day, with a gust that threatened to become a tempest, I was walking along a corridor to my room, when I was stopped short by a rare and delectable scent. I found it impossible to analyse, but it was so richly and so complexly floral that someone must have denuded whole fields, Florentine fields, I assumed, to produce merely a few drops of that fragrance... [the aroma] ... Hinted at the presence of the most exquisite personality ...
Marcel Proust

Non-Visual Resemblance

...Several days later, when ascending, a staircase that was quite remote from the mysterious corridor, I smelled a faint, delicious fragrance, definitely the same as the first time. I headed toward that corridor, and, upon reaching that door, I was numbed by the violence of fragrances, which boomed like organs, growing measurably more intense by the minute...

Smell in the Classroom

Have you been brave enough?

Perspectives on Taste

  • Eating is touch carried to the bitter end (Samuel Butler)
  • Recorded opinions about taste are characterized by ambiguity and paradox
  • For some, it is a matter of physical sensation, unworthy of critical attention, a lower bodily sense like smell and touch
  • For connoisseurs it yields information as complex and pleasure as complete as eyesight and hearing
  • It has also become a metaphor for discernment, refinement & cultivation
  • Aristotle noted that brutes care more for swallowing than for tasting and that only humans have the capacity for savouring what nourishes them
  • The variability of subjective experience is nowhere more evident than with the sense of taste
  • What would you give an enemy to eat?
  • Where is the line between sweet and sickly sweet?
  • Liquorice must be a metaphor for something. For what?
  • What about peppermint?

Back to Marcel

... I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my entire body, and I stopped, intent on the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.... I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I was conscious that it was connected with the taste of tea and cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours ... I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop; the potion is losing its magic.

Taste in the Classroom

Have you tried any exercises in the past?

Perspectives on Sound

  • For 25 centuries Western knowledge has tried to look upon the world. It has failed to understand that the world is not for beholding. It is for hearing ... Now we must learn to judge a society by its noise
    Jacques Attali
  • Sound has both utopian and dystopian connotations. It enables us to create intimate, manageable and aestheticized environments, but it can also become an unwanted and deafening roar which tests our sense of the social to the limit
  • Auditory culture is being researched within the domains of sociology, cultural and media studies, anthropology, cultural history, philosophy, geography
  • Not to mention musicology!

Interest in Everyday Sounds

In response to the Q 'Is your child particularly interested in everyday sounds?' (eg; vacuum cleaners, car engines etc):

  • Replies of 'a lot' were given for 6 out of 7 of participants with no vision (86%).
  • 75% of the participants who were described as 'blind' (add to the above category, those participants with perception of light and/or perception of shape/movement) responded 'a lot'.
  • Only 5 out of the 16 partially sighted participants were described as having a particular interest in sound (31%).
  • Only 4 of the 32 sighted participants expressed a particular interest in everyday sounds.

Interpretation of Findings

  • Blind children are significantly more likely than their partially and fully sighted peers to be interested in their acoustic environment.
  • The few fully sighted children who expressed an interest in sound were aged either 3 or 4. The research suggested that among children whose vision is developing normally, an early interest in sound may subsequently wane due to the increasing dominance of visual input as they enter formal education.
  • It seems clear that in the absence of vision sound offers a ready source of interest and stimulation.
  • This interest in sound often manifests itself through mimicry.

Sound Ideas for the Classroom

  • What has worked for you in the past?
  • What about a wall of audio haiki?

7 Keys to Writing a Haiku

  1. Form: 3 lines, 17 syllables, 1 breath
  2. Image: be descriptive
  3. Kigo (season word)
  4. here and now: write from lived experience or memory
  5. Feelein: your haiku should not try to explain, or tell, but to show feeling through a sensory form
  6. Surprise: your haiku should have an 'ah!' moment to make us shake at the beauty of its simplicity
  7. Compassion: express open-heartedness toward nature


sudden shower In the empty park Swing still swinging (John Brandi)

letting the cat in the fog in (Vincent Tripi)

holding the water, held by it - the dark mud (William Higginson)

lily out of the water ... out of itself (Nicholas Virgilio)

summer Grasses: the wheels of a locomotive come up to a stop (Yamaguchi Seishi)

round moon round frozen lake reflecting each other (Hashimoto Takako)