When I first heard the term ‘eccentric viewing’ in the context of WMD, I thought it was a slightly un-PC reference to my new way of seeing things. My first experience of my sight changes took place in Sydney Art Gallery after a long flight from the UK to Australia. I put it down to jet lag. Sidney Nolans’s magnificent paintings of Ned Kelly twisted and turned. The square metal helmet elongated and then restored itself. The concentric patterns on aboriginal designs refused to stay still. Eccentric viewing it certainly was in the broadest of terms. Frightening and intriguing. At the time I had never heard of Macular Degeneration.
Years later, diagnosis and treatment accomplished, I know that ‘eccentric viewing’ is the professional term for a technique which helps the person with a loss of central sight to maximise their peripheral vision. For instance, if I want to see your face, I may look over your shoulder and peer at you out of the corner of my eye. To the observer, this can certainly give the appearance of eccentricity, but it is a useful tool, particularly when looking at art.
From time to time I attend the Barber Institute of Fine Arts Quarterly INSIGHT programme (see previous blog post). As I have written before, this is a programme run by mainly sighted guides for the benefit of the VI. Since I first started attending, my expectations of what I want, or, more specifically, what is now available to me, from art, have changed. Subtleties of colour and composition are replaced by narrative and form. The approach from the INSIGHT professionals has changed too. They have adapted brilliantly to the very differing needs of the group. It must be counter-intuitive at times to go into some detail before we visit the paintings we are exploring. For me, one big loss is sometimes not getting the thrill of the new impact of a painting or piece of sculpture. However, I am getting accustomed to this and enjoying more the expertise and enthusiasm of our guides.
There are plenty of resources out there for people with VI. At the risk of labouring the point, eccentricity in all its forms plays an important role. Do any of you VI or fully sighted use an unusual approach to access the arts in all its forms?
“Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts, narrated by Humphrey Bower … hours of self-indulgent but colourful writing about an Australian criminal’s redemption in the slums of Bombay.
“The Coffin Road” by Peter May, narrated in a lovely Scottish accent by Bill Wallis … terrific thriller set on the Isle of Harris.
“Imperium” by Robert Harris, narrated by Peter Forbes … fascinating novel of the frightening politics of Cicero, Pompeii and the young Julius Caesar … well worth reading.
“Exposure” by Helen Dunmore, narrated by Emma Fenney … ostensibly a spy story but really a subtle story of different kinds of love.