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Art, Beyond the Visual: a Transcendental Experience

17-year-old Caiden Cawthon is legally blind - and his appreciation for art goes far beyond its visual aspects

Caiden, a young man wearing glasses and a white suit, stands in front of an art installation of multi-colored neon lights while holding his mobility cane.

Art is a transcendental thing. It expands beyond all barriers, breaches all walls and fortifications, and strikes straight at the heart.

Many people know this deep down, many have felt art touch them in this way. For this is, in large part, universal. Many, however, are surprised when I walk into art exhibits, taken aback by the presence of my white cane. What they don’t know is that art, for me, extends far past the visual.

Always unconventional

Born at 15 weeks premature, I was unconventional from the very beginning.

A stroke at nine weeks left me with cerebral palsy, and increased oxygen intake caused retinopathy of prematurity, a condition which ultimately led to my becoming legally blind. And so, unable to play most traditional sports effectively due to my various conditions, my free time has always been spent in the confines of my mind, studying everything from philosophy and psychology to international relations, reading books, playing piano, and writing poetry.

This is where art has truly shown its importance to me. For though some may find that blind and visually impaired people are excluded from the – seemingly visual – world of art, for me, it has been the greatest inclusivity.

Embraced by the art community

Where I once spent days in my room, alone in contemplation, feeling ashamed of having to use a white cane at all, I now attend fashion shows and art debuts quite frequently, cane in hand!

I have even become a favorite of some particularly well-recognized artists in my community, with them taking quite well to my perspective on their art. Some have even tried to make their art surpass the visual, crafting new ways and attempting new ideas to appeal to people like myself who may struggle viewing certain aspects of their art.

Indeed, as I’ve found it, art is far from simply visual. It is the culmination of all human feeling and expression. It surely can’t merely be visual!

An advocate for accessibility in the arts

With that in mind, art for me is not locked away in exclusivity due to my impairment at all. For it is the means by which I bridge my impairment and society at large, my main mode of interaction with the world around me.

The fashion shows, cultural events, and art exhibits I have attended have only worked to make me more integrated in my community, even becoming a disability consultant for one of my local museums, the nationally renowned Newfields.

For as art has impacted me, so too do I wish to impact art. And so, I implore you: write a poem, visit a museum, or better yet, contact a museum and see if they can install a tactile art exhibit.

Let’s show them that there is a place for the sightless in the, far too often, visual world of art. Let’s show them that art transcends all.

About the author

Caiden Cawthon is a legally blind 17-year-old pianist, poet, philosopher, and martial artist from Fishers, Indiana.

You can see more of his works and reflections on life on his Instagram, @CaidenCawthon.

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