What Defines Visual Art? Reflections of an Artist Losing Physical Vision

by Kara Ruth Snyder in Reflections

As Vision Fades… 

I am not sure quite where to begin.  I am literally unable to decide what to do.  My vision is almost completely gone and I am still trying like hell to be the visual artist I have always been.  I am not sure how much longer I can take the stress of trying to see while I am working.  I go up to my painting studio and am unable to find the simplest of things.  The edges of the canvas are gone.  The colors are gone.  My brushes and palette knifes are no longer visible.  How can this be?  I am a painter that loves how the things in my studio look…the dried up paints on my favorite palette knife handle, and the flow of water filled with paint colors going down the sides of my big slop sink as it catches the late day sun slanting in my window.  It is all gone…So, how am I to paint?  My heart aches so at this loss of vision, yet I have not been able to find my voice about it, or to express my grief.  I feel as if I do then I am sealing my fate as a “blind person”.  I struggle so because I say to myself, “it doesn’t matter…you can still be an artist without your sight…you paint from an inner source and that will always be with you”,  But, I cannot deny that I am so deeply sad about the loss of my physical sight.   I want to see the drips of water rolling down the canvas as it catches and drags a clump of pigment and gets caught on a raised bit of textured gesso.  To me, this is the beauty of art…the materials themselves!  I want to see scratch marks and the frantic sketches of charcoal.  I want to see Gauguin’s nudes laying like sacred beings and Cezanne’s crooked old men on crooked furniture.  I want to see Rodin’s cool stony contours and Rothko’s subtle planes of beauty…I want to see it all.

I know I am in a place of transition…in between two worlds:  The world of vision and the world of non-vision.  I have been in the other world where it was only through not seeing that I was able to experience this world in ways I never knew existed.  A deep sense of environment felt only through my ears and my skin.  I know this way-of-being is beautiful, and yet I fight against it, longing for my old world of crisp lines and geometric shapes and ever-changing light.

So, what is the solution to this limbo?  As always, Acceptance is the key.  I need to accept that I cannot see what I am doing unless I have very bright directional light and use only colors I can see.  I need to simplify and organize my studio space so that I can find things readily.  But, even more  importantly, I will strive toward an existential and spiritual acceptance.  Just this past week, I painted over a complex and colorful abstract with whites and blacks and ultramarine blue…as this was the only way I could sort-of see what I was doing.  All I can say is that a bit of that joy crept back in as I painted.  I did not feel stressed out and depressed.  Hence, I think that working with a limited palette will serve me well.  Pictured above and below  are two pieces that I did last week using this limited-palette approach.

In conclusion, visual art, for me, IS based on seeing it with eyes.  However, being a “visual  artist” does not require physical vision.  There are many ways of “seeing” and being inspired…I will continue to create according to my vision, be it physical vision or felt or heard vision.  
I want to thank my friend Marty Ressler for encouraging me to write about this…thanks Marty!!
-Kara Ruth Snyder 
Kara Ruth Snyder, Stabbing at Nothing, 2013 

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