[nfbwatlk] Artist Sees Painting as a Way of Life, Disability Blog, August 6 2014

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Wed Aug 6 22:01:41 UTC 2014


August 6, 2014
Artist Sees Painting as a Way of Life
By Guest Blogger Mel Finefrock, editor and freelance writer

Prior to losing his sight due to complications with epilepsy, John Bramblitt processed his world and his experiences through drawing. Amidst grieving and adjusting to a life with blindness as a secondary disability, he found that he felt isolated both from himself and people around him. When he realized that what was missing in his life was art, he began to dabble in painting by touch.

At first, painting helped Bramblitt to express his anger with regard to the loss of his sight, but over time, he found that those feelings were replaced by a sense of peace and calm. Self-doubt gave way to self-confidence; aimlessness to purpose; and desolation to hope and joy. Through art, Bramblitt rediscovered himself and found a way to connect with others, starting with friends and family and eventually branching out to the public.

Of course, Bramblitt wasn't aware initially, beyond a certain point, of the therapeutic effects which art had on him or, furthermore, that he would begin to deliver therapy to others. "I didn't even think of painting as therapy for me - I thought it might actually be a little dysfunctional - so I didn't tell anybody at first," Bramblitt recounts. "But after six to eight months, I was so much calmer and happier, and then I wanted to do a show so I could meet other artists, because I wanted to meet other people who were just as obsessed as I was about art."

At last, Bramblitt found the sense of community he had come to miss so much; to him, it was refreshing to be in the presence of like-minded people who may not necessarily have been going through the same things he was, but who had struggles of their own and could relate on that level.

Art shows led to articles, which then led to connections with nonprofits and charities who wished to know how Bramblitt might go about teaching workshops for children with autism or seniors with Alzheimer's.

"The more that I would try to adapt the art for different groups," he says, "the more I would learn about art, and that pushed my artwork to a huge degree, because I was always learning new techniques and finding new ways to look at things, as well as various forms of expression and accommodation. My art is way different now because of that, so providing therapy to others actually helped me in return."

Nowadays, Bramblitt works predominantly with museums in order to develop accessible programming for all. A visit to the Dallas Museum of Arts or the Southern Methodist University Meadows Museum, for example, might entail description and discussion of famous works, touching paintings or raised-line renditions of them on paper, listening to music from their corresponding time periods, and enjoying food or perfume oils which may have inspired the artists' creative processes.

Bramblitt also hosts workshops wherein those attending, blind or sighted, paint by touch as he does. These multisensory enhancements are beneficial to blind museum-goers, but what makes them universally accessible is that they enrich the experience for everyone involved, regardless of disability status. "Everybody should have access to art," Bramblitt declares, "so I'm really excited to get to be doing this. I love my job!"

As an artist, Bramblitt wishes not only to connect with others, but also to raise questions about matters of perception. "Vision loss really changed my way of seeing things," says Bramblitt. "Before I lost my eyesight, if I drew a picture of someone and it looked like them, I was happy. Looking back now, that seemed kind of shallow and superficial. Somehow, even though I'm blind, I feel like I'm more tuned in to people and their motives, because I'm relying on other modes of perception besides seeing. So when I paint someone now, it has to look like them, but it's not right unless the colors match how they feel."

Bramblitt experiences synesthesia, the automatic association of one sensation with another; as such, he chooses colors based on a combination of his impressions of a subject's physical features, personality and interaction style, background and the overall vibe (s)he gives off, as well as whatever music Bramblitt is listening to while painting. These uniquely synesthetic color schemes challenge viewers' expectations of what things should look like and encourage them to see based on how the colors make them feel.

"I think what keeps most people down or causes the biggest problems in their lives tends to be themselves," are Bramblitt's parting words of wisdom. "It's like in painting: There're so many people saying, 'Well, I can't draw a straight line,' or, 'I can't do this or that,' and it's interesting how, if you stop editing yourself-if you stop judging every little thing you do when it comes to art-you end up invariably being able to do way more than you thought. It seems like it's the same way in life. When I lost my eyesight, I really thought everything was over because I already had epilepsy and all; but then thankfully, with the painting, I stopped thinking about it that way. I stopped editing everything I did, stopped worrying about the past or the future and just focused on being in the moment. Things got a lot better after that. I wish more people would do that, because they don't realize that what they're capable of is incredible."

To learn more about John Bramblitt, his artwork, his autobiography and his programming, visit www.bramblitt.net<http://www.bramblitt.net>.

Mel Finefrock graduated from the University of North Texas last May and is now an editor for independent authors such as award-winning Krista Lakes. Her greatest passion is art; as such, she writes songs, poetry, and even takes pictures once in a while, which might surprise many on account of her blindness.

More information about the NFBWATlk mailing list