Psychologist Lawrence Rosenblum’s Sensory Superpowers blog covers the remarkable story of blind artist John Bramblitt who creates the most strikingly vivid images but didn‚Äôt start painting until he lost his sight.
To judge colour Bramblitt feels the small differences in the thickness and texture of the paint and the piece discusses how such fine touch distinction become more possible after sight loss owing to what is known as cross-modal plasticity:
For color, Bramblitt uses oil paint, which has proven critical to the process. While oil paint is messier, more pungent, and dries much slower than acrylics, it offers something that no other paint can: idiosyncratic viscosity. According to Bramblitt, ‚ÄúWhite feels thicker on my fingers, almost like toothpaste, and black feels slicker and thinner. To mix a gray, I‚Äôll try to get the paint to have a feel of medium viscosity‚Äù. In fact, he has learned to recognize and mix all the colors he uses by his sense of touch. And the colors are the first thing one notices about Bramblitt‚Äôs work (www.Bramblitt.net). While the subjects of his paintings are immediately recognizable, proportioned, and smartly stylized, the colors are supremely vibrant, and nearly psychedelic in their rendering.
John Bramblitt has developed his touch skills in particularly impressive ways. But the enhancement of the touch sense is known to generally occur for blind individuals. Research has shown that regardless of training in Braille, the blind have better touch skills than the sighted, especially when it comes to touching complex spatial patterns. This cross-modal plasticity is thought to be a result of the blind‚Äôs visual cortex being reassigned to other senses. Brain imaging shows that when touching complex patterns, the visual cortex of blind, but not sighted individuals is activated in systematic ways. Moreover, inducing a transient brain lesion (using transcranial magnetic stimulation) in visual cortex will disrupt some of the tactile skills of blind, but not sighted subjects.
The author of the article researches cross-modal plasticity and followers of his blog will be aware that he often comes up with striking examples of the effect in action.
We covered another one of his posts, about blind mountain bikers who make clicks as a form of human ‘echolocation’, back in July.
If want to see more of Bramblitt’s artwork, there’s plenty more over at his website.