Feeling the Rainbow: Advances in Multisensory Artistic Experiences for the Visually Impaired

Peter Gillespie ’25

Figure 1: A color’s hue, warmth, and intensity can now be expressed by sound and temperature.

Is art seen, or is it experienced? Thanks to the work of researchers Jorge Bartolome, Gilsang Cho, and Jun-Dong Cho at Sungkyunkwan University, people with visual impairments can now appreciate artwork through senses other than vision. Previous research in allowing people with visual impairments to experience art has appealed to just one other sense, such as sound or touch. However, Bartolome and his team believe that appealing to multiple senses at once can improve a user’s ability to memorize and integrate an artwork.

How does one determine the sound of a color or its temperature? To answer this question, Bartolome gave pairs of adjectives to 18 college students with normal vision. They then categorized each pair as relating to brightness or darkness, warmth or coldness, or both of these designations. Later, they rated how strongly related the adjective pair was to these designations. For example, given the adjective pair noisy/quiet, participants may report that the pair relates strongly or weakly to brightness or darkness, but not feelings of warmth or coldness.  Participants then rated the adjective pair to a sensory stimulus. For example, when listening to a musical piece, a participant may say the piece relates strongly to the adjective “noisy.” The researchers also weighted the frequency of responses. By creating a link between adjectives and color character and another between adjectives and sensory stimuli, the researchers essentially created a connection between color character and sensory stimuli and used their unifying adjective list to bridge the gap.

The researchers found that a higher temperature was best for representing warm colors like red, and colder temperatures for representing colder colors like blue, suggesting the applicability of temperature in communicating hue. Furthermore, because musical pieces were more easily distinguishable than temperature, they were deemed best for communicating aspects like brightness or darkness. When a different group of participants was asked to guess the color related to each stimulus, the hue was determined with 71.6% accuracy and color character with 92.5% accuracy.  Given the limited practice with this multimodal model and the supposed heightened sensory ability of visually impaired individuals, this methodology suggests a promising lens through which visually impaired individuals may experience fine art. 

Works Cited:

[1] J. Iranzo Bartolome, G. Cho, and J. Cho, Multi-sensory color expression with sound and temperature in visual arts appreciation for people with visual impairment. Electronics 10, 1336-1336 (2021). doi: 10.3390/electronics10111336.

[2] Image retrieved from: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/rainbow-abstract-painting-texture-1527635/

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