Access to the Aesthetic
: Exploring the Roles of the Functional, the Cultural & the Aesthetic with Respect to the Production of Tactile Images

  • Sean Crumlish

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The creation of tactile images as it applies to a blind and partially sighted audience, is a territory which has a tendency to be dominated by a largely functional or utilitarian discourse (Amick & Corcoran, 1997; Spence & Osterhaus,1997; Presley & Hastings, 2005). This approach prioritises the translation of essential information and the transference of meaning, over broader questions of the aesthetic or socio-cultural dimensions of what we might describe as traditionally visual knowledge. However, in reality the approach and rationale for the creation of tactile works, can be as varied and multifaceted as those underpinning the creation of more straightforwardly ‘visual images’, and arguably, no singular approach is capable of encapsulating the full breadth of this field of practice. Accordingly, this thesis explores three distinct but interconnecting perspectives, which address the functional, cultural and aesthetic dimensions of tactile image making - examining the contexts provided by each, in an attempt to better understand the interplay between these approaches. An understanding of the field of tactile image making is developed, that draws upon Walter Benjamin’s notions of translation, in a bid to establish a ‘collections-based approach’ that is derived from Benjamin’s ideas of ‘fragments’ and his conception of ‘pure language’ (Benjamin, 1968), which are synthesised firstly with Ludwig Wittgenstein’s more functional-propositional and cultural approaches to linguistics (Wittgenstein, 1921; Wittgenstein, 1953), and secondly the aesthetic realism of Eddy Zemach (Zemach, 1997). In turn these are drawn into relation with more mainstream, contemporary notions of disability access and art practice (Barnes & Mercer, 2001), in order to develop a rich and holistic approach to a deeper comprehension of tactile imagery. The practice dimension of the thesis explores the technical, and mechanical understanding of the production of the tactile image, in order to provide a functional base of raised line drawing conventions, which can then be paired with the cultural and aesthetic dimensions of a work, providing access to the mainstream of artistic consumption and production. These ideas are supported by a breadth of practical 3D printed work, as well as collections of previously unpublished archives and an interview with a transcriber, and Braille expert from The Huddersfield Transcription Service. Ultimately it is claimed that it is only through this juxtaposition of contrasting and in some cases contradictory frameworks that we can fully understand the need for, and diversity of application of the tactile image. The tensions and relationships between established knowledge bases of tactile-kinaesthetic comprehension and the wants and experiences of a blind audience participating in the context of a largely ocular-centric world, serve to frame a discourse that is in equal parts rich and challenging. Ultimately, this enables a more holistic approach that emphasises a broader definition of what constitutes tactile image making, alongside a deep understanding of the conventions associated with best practice, that encompass both professional and amateur modes of production.
Date of Award15 Aug 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSpencer Roberts (Main Supervisor) & Ertu Unver (Co-Supervisor)

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