On Monday 6 April the CAS Research Group ‘drawing languages for dissent’ met on a combination of Zoom & WhatsApp to discuss the texts listed below.
Janice Kirkby-Brown provided these texts and led the Research Group session. When sending these texts to the group Janice explained why they were important texts at this stage of our 6 month research program:
“My idea centres very much on the proposal that drawing is a language for communication, looking at what can be communicated. We will read the first text Formative Force in the session, but I think the second text Possibility of Hope by John Bramblitt’s is a useful contribution.”
Text 2 Chapter 15, The Possibility of Hope from Bramblitt, John. Shouting in the Dark (p. 97). Lyons Press. Kindle Edition.
Written by John Bramblitt – read by Karen Wood
I thought about writing down my thoughts and being the writer I wanted to be, but I found I just couldn’t do it. I sat at my desk at my computer but it seemed like a chore. The words didn’t come and the dream seemed heavy now, tainted in some way, as if it could never be the way I wanted it to be. I felt more locked in than ever, images spiraling out of control in my mind. There was a small wooden Buddha on my desk, picked up a few years ago from Voyager’s Dream on the hub at the University, a store that sold stuff from all over the world and invited dreams of travel to exotic lands. That seemed distinctly impossible now. I took this Tibetan Buddha in my hands and moved my fingers slowly across its worn surface, feeling the soft grooves that defined layers of robes, the indentations of individual fingers. With just one fingertip I traced half-closed eyes, the curve of a mouth, a stippled headpiece, and saw the image of the Buddha appear in my mind’s eye and chase everything else away. I stopped, startled for a moment, not only by the strength of the image but also by the sudden sense of calm I felt. My mind had stopped racing. Gently my fingers sought out the soft statue again, and as they explored, more details appeared—a slight blister-like imperfection in the wood, a two-strand necklace looped beneath the chin. Could I have remembered these details from my sighted days? Did I even know of them? Or, crazy as it sounded, was I really seeing with such clarity with my fingers, through my sense of touch? I stood up and crossed the room and picked up the remote control from the coffee table. Sure enough, as soon as I touched it, an image of it appeared in my mind. I petted Ann’s ears and an image of the little dog popped up in my mind. For the first time in months
I was smiling, feeling giddy inside. I was pretty sure that if a neurologist were to run an MRI on me right now my whole visual cortex would be glowing. I couldn’t get the image of that Buddha out of my mind. The TV was on in the background, just for the mindless chatter of it, or maybe so I could tell my friends that, yes, I did see that TV show last night. But all I could think of was the Buddha. I wanted to draw it. I hadn’t drawn a thing since I went blind. What was the point? I couldn’t see where I was putting pencil to paper, so everything would just end up all over the place, lines drawn on top of other lines, out of position, out of perspective, a mad man’s interpretation of the world. Or a blind man’s. But I wanted to draw the Buddha anyway to get the image out of my mind, onto paper and into the world like a message from me to them. I was alive. I had a mind. I was still me. This idea tormented me, worrying at me, and it was strange because there was the calm image of the Buddha in my mind and then there was me all knotted up inside over this idea and what to do about it. But it felt good to have a sense of purpose. I drew the Buddha with charcoal, but it got lost between my mind and the paper as I knew it would. I felt it crumbling from serenity into disarray as I endeavored to make the careful transfer, ending up as a black cloud of charcoal. I tried not to feel frustration but to think instead about the kick of adrenaline I got from focusing my thought process—from the sensation of touch that translated into an image in my mind’s eye and then the carrying of that image from my mind onto paper. I was desperate to get that image out of my mind and to skewer it, still fresh, still alive, and present it to the outside world as evidence. Of what? That I could still perceive? That I had a mind? That I could still communicate? I was taken over by the obsession of learning to draw again. It became the only thing I could think about, a constant hum in my brain. I was casting around for a way of making it work, but I knew that thinking about it wasn’t going to make it happen, so I sat myself down at my kitchen table with bags of materials gathered from all over my apartment from various craft projects and handyman projects from my past. If my old pencils and charcoals wouldn’t work, I would try other ideas. Paints, glues, epoxies, anything I could get my hands on. I had bags of materials. I started drawing with all kinds of crazy things, searching for that special substance that would let me feel my way around a drawing. I had figured that much out. Just as I needed my sense of touch to see images now, so too did I need it for drawing those same images on paper. A couple of days later it was fabric paint that came to my rescue. When squeezed onto paper it had just the right consistency, so the lines I drew stood out enough for my fingers to feel their outline but not too much to dominate the drawing. I practiced with simple geometric shapes, squares, circles, and triangles, over and over again. I tried not to think about the things I drew before I lost my sight: exploded views of airplane engines, drafting plans for houses, cartoons, or portraits. Instead I had to think of the here and now. I concentrated on the four sides of a square. It was harder than you’d think to get the last side to touch the first. Circles were tricky, too. I was relearning how to draw. My brain knew what to do and my hand knew what to do but now they had to figure out what to do together in this new equation with touch instead of sight. And I had to master the right way to work with the paint. In the beginning I was too impatient, drawing the next line while the paint was still wet, smudging it. My hands were thick with dried, cracked paint. Eventually I used a heat gun to dry the paint so my materials could keep up with my enthusiasm. And then I was ready to try the Buddha. I started work in the afternoon, sitting on the floor with a big bag of paint next to me and a stack of paper. I drew a little and then crumpled up the paper and threw it on the floor next to me. The Buddha was a small statue but there were so many details in my mind that had to be drawn line by painstaking line. Face, robes, headpiece. It was a huge effort of concentration, this seeing by touch. I felt like a child struggling with long division, my brain aching to expand to combine all the right elements. I touched the statue, applied the paint, touched, compared, and crumpled. I pictured my thoughts shooting from my fingers up my arm to my brain and then down the other arm, pulsing and glowing like sparks of light, except heavier. There was tremendous effort involved, both physical and mental. I felt like a surgeon. The pile of crumpled paper grew steadily higher as day turned into night. Ann came and lay on the floor next to me. I forgot about dinner, just kept on working on my drawing of the Buddha, powered by this sense of tunneling toward the light. I was taking something from the world of the sighted, running it through my blind man’s brain, and giving it back again. An offering. Something sacred. A text translated into my new language and back again. I was so grateful for the Orientation and Mobility training I worked so hard at the past year: visualization by touch for help with daily life, for help getting around, for help finding my way forward. When morning arrived, which I knew now not by the arrival of light but by my very loud alarm clock and the thrum of traffic outside my window, I was finished. The Buddha lived on the paper. I was ecstatic. When I touched the drawing, I felt warmth in my chest, like the onset of a fever. Or maybe like the onset of a seizure. But then I realized it was a feeling of hope, something I hadn’t felt in a long time, not something I’d even thought about much before. What does hope mean? Hope you had a good day. A good birthday. But sitting on the floor of my apartment in the dawn light with that little drawing in my hand, I understood that it meant that you have faith that something good can happen. It was a feeling about possibility. And I liked it. This meant a lot to me as this was the year that I lost all hope. Finishing school well with epilepsy was hard enough. Finishing school at all with blindness had seemed impossible. My dream of independence had begun to seem almost futile. Now suddenly with this Buddha in my hand, I was feeling hope. I had accomplished something new for myself at a time when I thought my world was shutting down.
Bramblitt, John. Shouting in the Dark (p. 97). Lyons Press. Kindle Edition.
Language = Communication with words
Speech of a group
System of communication
Non-verbal communication among animals
Non-verbal communication among humans
Style of verbal expression
Dissent = Disagree with widely held belief or majority opinion
Disagree with majority court opinion and put views in writing
Not conform to the authority, doctrines or practices of an established church
Withhold assent or approval.
Refuse to accept political rules
My thoughts – by Karen Wood @kbwoodnews:
The following two posts are from John Bramblitt’s instagram – chosen to give us a view of both his raised paint and hi not being afraid of colour:
Thick paint, lush colour, and I must look up John Bramblitt’s playlist called “paint”.
When asked what John was listening to while painting, he replied:
under my account I have a playlist called Paint, I put it together for this painting and a few others, and it has all the songs that I listen to. Have a great day! Oh, my account is just bramblitt
“What colours do I use in my paintings: All of them” John Bramblitt
The following post is by blogger whoahgoesnaomi using an example of John Bramblitt’s raised painting on instagram, I have taken from the comment a title I think is appropriate for the context of this research group:
“look beyond the surface”
View this post on Instagram
John Bramblitt is a blind artist. He uses texture and touch to create art. You look at something like this and may think it’s beautiful in a fleeting thought. Only when you take into account that it’s done by a blind man that it grips you, you take in every minute detail. The people you least expect can have beauty and creativity. Look beyond the surface. #blogger #bloggerstyle #blog #lifestyleblogger #life #instablogger #instablog #selflove #confidence #fitness #health #loveyourself #healthyliving #gym #motivation #selfdevelopment #spreadlove #goddessrevolution #lifestyleblog #johnbramblitt #art #blindartist