Conceptual Art Workshop for the Blind


Social artwork / Educational program

10 two-hour classes


In the land of the blind, the visual arts are almost entirely mute. In galleries and museums, artworks that visually impaired people cannot see are furthermore prohibited to be touched. The Conceptual Art Workshop for the Blind provides an unfiltered art education for the visually impaired where the nature of the course content—the visual negation inherent in conceptual art—theoretically transforms the disability of blindness into a critical ability.

While conceptual art proposes that vision and beauty are secondary—that the idea of an artwork is paramount and can substitute the dependence on an art object—a conceptual artwork still requires a physical form to express its ideas. The Conceptual Art Workshop for the Blind is both a celebration and critique of conceptual art, amplifying the possibilities of its expression and appreciation while exploring its limitations. Making conceptual art comprehensible to a public that is generally excluded from artistic dialogue, the workshop provides its students with innovative strategies for developing and expressing artistic, philosophical and political ideas in new forms and contexts.

Students gain access to the history of conceptual art through audio versions of important texts and more casual conversations between artists and curators of significant conceptual art projects. This audio component is assigned as homework and discussed in the classes, which further explore conceptual art in theory and practice. The elements of visual design are taught through hearing, touching, smelling and tasting, providing students with the vocabulary to discuss and begin to understand Modernism, against which conceptual art reacted. The course continues with a study of the methods and strategies through which conceptual art developed, focusing on its use of language and action to expand the possibilities of art practices and appreciation.
The course also examines the role of the blind in the context of art history, using the book “Memoirs of the Blind” by Jacques Derrida to explore contradictory ideas of sight and perception. Jesus Heals the Blind as Drawn by the Blind is one of several projects that the students undertake. Over the course of the workshop students complete eight projects, in groups and individually, in private and in public. The projects explore key conceptual artworks (for example, Rauschenberg’s Erased De Kooning Drawing, Ono’s Instruction Paintings, Acconci’s Following Piece, and John Cage’s 4’33″) and give the students an understanding of the strategies commonly used by conceptual artists.
The students also develop and carry out two public interventions which explore the political potential of socially engaged artworks. In Olfactory Intervention, students are given a bottle of perfume and a disposable camera, and with a friend they ‘mark’ a public territory with a scent while documenting the process. Students are encouraged to explore the poetics of site-specificity based on the names of perfumes, for example, by spraying Eternity at a cemetery. In Braille Flyer Intervention, students find and create phrases based on ideas of (in)accessibility and (in)comprehension. These phrases are printed as flyers in Braille and distributed by the students to strangers in public. The flyers included phrases such as “The essential is invisible”, or “Exchange this coupon immediately for the night of your dreams”.
At the end of the workshop, students participate in a field trip to an exhibition of contemporary art, expanding their critique of artworks to the institutions that house them. Furthermore, the workshop is critical of itself, reflexively questioning its content and methodology, with the intention of amplifying ideas of accessibility through the union of course content and student demographic.

As a conceptual art project in itself, the Conceptual Art Workshop for the Blind examines the visual negation inherent in conceptual art in the form of an education and production workshop. It provides students with the knowledge, practice and motivation to pursue creative endeavours, positioning the artistic expression of the visually impaired as a compelling new voice in contemporary visual culture.