Changing Perspectives

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After a week away from my weekly reading post I return to Oliver Sacks. In An Anthropologist on Mars, Sacks writes about an artist who in his later years becomes color blind, meaning he lost all ability to see colors and everything appeared to him a murky black and white. He suffered from achromatopsia. For an artist who relies on his sense of color to create this, of course, was devastating. It completely changed not only the way he perceived the world but his inner psyche as well. Initially he found it impossible to create work but eventually it transformed his work.

But then, with the “apocalyptic sunrise, and his painting of this, came the first hint of a change, an impulse to construct the world anew, to construct his own sensibility and identity anew. Some of this was conscious and deliberate: retraining his eyes (and hands) to operate, as he had in his first days as an artist. But much occurred below this level, at a level of neural processing not directly accessible to consciousness or control. In this sense, he started to be redefined by what happened to him – redefined physiologically, psychologically, aesthetically – and with this there came a transformation of values, so that the total otherness, the alienness of his VI world, which at first had such a quality of horror and nightmare, came to take on, for him, a strange fascination and beauty.

– Jennifer Dean

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