Working within the thresholds of perception


Dr. Gordon Dutton
As a clinician who has spent many years working with children and adults with impaired vision, often associated with developmental and learning disorders, this contributor’s view is that it is important  to bring about a sense of pleasure and fulfilment through the medium of artistic expression, for all those whose normal is to have limitations in access to both their surroundings and society.

The work of Steve Hollingsworth brings a refreshing new perspective to this ambition. Instead of being hidebound by the negative medical dogma of disease, disorder and disability, the approach he takes is to accept that everyone is normal (1) and to work towards ensuring that artistic presentation is accessible and interesting to all.

We each tend to assume that the world out in front of us is there for us to see with our eyes. However, the processes of seeing, recognising, visually understanding and moving through the environment through visual guidance, are now known to be entirely brought about by and within the brain.  This is a complex process served by multiple brain areas and structures, wherein the process of vision is integrated with input from all the other senses, and our prior memories and knowledge. This internalised virtual, meaningful, constantly refreshing, multimodal, brain based representation of the external world accords us our internal reality, which we immediately endow upon what we perceive, by projecting it onto our environment, so that we can appreciate it and move through it without incident. Although this printed document is compelling out in front of you the, reader, its representation is in your mind, and it is this representation that you are currently processing.

So what happens if this representation of the outside world is impaired by damage to the brain? The outcome is an alternative form of internal representation in the mind, which is ‘normal’ for the affected person, who is unaware of what others are perceiving, yet may not see or may misinterpret what is presented, because it has not been rendered accessible. There is therefore a compelling need to develop a form of art, which, by designing and producing multiple salient elements that fall within the perceptual limitations of those with multiple disabilities so that they too can enjoy it in their own unique ways, and share this experience with those around them.

Steve Hollingworth’s creations take into account that the multiply disabled,  uniquely appreciate what they perceive in the light of their own prior experiences and understanding and can, like everyone else,  be entertained by , and appreciate key elements of multimodal artwork, in sound, light, colour, form and movement when elements of each modality are matched in their presentation, to fall within the limitations (or thresholds) for perception, attention and appreciation of the disabled observer.

From a social perspective Steve’s approach philosophically accords entirely with the conceptual frameworks which underpin disability legislation, as it extends the principles of the rights of the disabled to have access to the environment beyond the practical physical perspective, into the sensory and experiential domains of art, whereby they too can share in the experiences and pleasures of artistic expression.

Gordon N Dutton
Paediatric Ophthalmologist
Emeritus Professor of Visual Science
Glasgow Caledonian University

(1) Francesca Martinez (2014). What the **** is normal?!  Random House, Croydon.  ISBN: 9780753555361
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