Artfully Described

In February, I traveled to experience a Picture This! tour at the National Gallery of Art. The program gives people with visual impairments the chance to understand paintings and other pieces of the gallery in a more complete way. It offers intense verbal description, and sometimes it includes other sensory elements.

I’m the kind of person who loves to learn, loves history, loves art, and loves to be curious.  Clearly, I was excited to go on this tour.

I packed up my monocular, grabbed my white cane, and prepared to enjoy myself. My mom joined me. We arrived at the museum with no problems.  Our tour guide let us know he was ready to start in the Rotunda.

“Welcome, everyone, to the Picture This! tour which is for those individuals who have visual impairments.” He said, speaking loud enough to be heard over the water fountain. “As this is February, and Valentine’s Day happened recently, I will be describing three paintings today which all fall into a category of love, companionship, or at least couples.”

He took a breath, looking around at the group of about a dozen of us. “Now, as we go along I will want to know about how much vision we are dealing with today to get a better understanding of what everyone is seeing. First,  let’s make our way down the hall.”

We walked along the marble floor to the space featuring William Holman Hunt’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. Our guide described the painting, asking us questions from time to time to facilitate discussion and elicit views. He even managed to create some suspense in his storytelling.

From other conversations, I gathered that most of the group attributed their vision loss to macular degeneration, a condition I do not have. I judged the others to be older than myself as well. None of this detracted from the tour; I enjoyed the discussions we held for each of the paintings. I smiled to myself as I watched others step up as close as possible to a painting, feeling that sense of belonging, that sense of familiarity.

Picture This! tours occur monthly at the National Gallery of Art. The next scheduled tour is Wednesday, March 27, at 1:00 pm. For more details, check out: Picture This! Gallery Tours.  The National Gallery of Art provides many other accommodating services. See the accessibility page for more info.

What do you think of a tour like Picture This? Do you know of any other museum that offers a tour for the visually impaired?


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