What It’s Like to Be Color Blind and See Art in Color for the First Time

We all know that say­ing about walk­ing in anoth­er’s shoes, but what about see­ing through anoth­er’s eye­balls? I’m not talk­ing about per­spec­tive. I’m talk­ing about col­or. As in I see it, and my hus­band does­n’t. At least not the way I do.

His cop­ing mech­a­nism is to chal­lenge me when­ev­er I refer to some­thing as “blue.” To him, it’s grey, or brown, or some oth­er non-blue shade. He wants me to see it that way too. To admit that I am wrong. For my part, I feel it’s impor­tant that the per­son to whom I’m mar­ried acknowl­edge that there’s no way my favorite bowl can be the col­or of cement, no mat­ter what his cone cell recep­tors are telling him.

Per­haps he’d have bet­ter luck ask­ing patient strangers to describe col­or to him, as blind-from-birth film crit­ic Tom­my Edi­son does below. Hmm. Col­or may be more sub­jec­tive than my hus­band’s and my spec­tral stand-offs would sug­gest.

Accord­ing to EnChro­ma, the com­pa­ny that designed and sells the col­or-cor­rect­ing lens­es the onscreen guinea pigs are seen wear­ing in the video up top, an esti­mat­ed 300 mil­lion peo­ple suf­fer from some form of col­or blind­ness. Their glass­es offer some of those three mil­lion a chance at see­ing red in the lit­er­al sense. The video par­tic­i­pants are, not sur­pris­ing­ly, blown away by their first encounter with a Cray­ola-col­ored world.

Hav­ing refreshed myself on the struc­tures of the eye, I took the col­or blind­ness test on EnChro­ma’s web­site. I test­ed nor­mal, hav­ing iden­ti­fied the hid­den (or in my case not-so-hid­den) num­bers in a vari­ety of vir­tu­al mosaics.

My col­or blind friend, Bob, agreed to take it too, pro­vid­ed I muz­zle myself from offer­ing the sort of com­men­tary to which hus­bands are sub­ject­ed. (Whad­daya mean you can’t see it!? It’s bright fuch­sia!!!) He pulled a pret­ty heavy duty protan defi­cien­cy, oth­er­wise known as red-green col­or blind­ness.

Accord­ing to the man­u­fac­tur­er, EnChro­ma glass­es are unlike­ly to col­or his world. The best he could hope for is a slight improve­ment after weeks of wear­ing.

Bum­mer, except that he lives in Chica­go, where the Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art offers EnChro­ma Cx loan­ers at the recep­tion desk. Like many such insti­tu­tions, the MCA is active­ly seek­ing ways to improve acces­si­bil­i­ty. (The museum’s col­or blind direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions rec­om­mends hav­ing a look at Mar­tin Creed’s Work No. 1351, a col­or­ful lat­tice in the cafe. See right below.)


Per­haps Bob will get a peek at some­thing he has­n’t seen before. Like red. Oth­ers will expe­ri­ence a rev­e­la­tion. Mean­while, an insuf­fer­able non-col­or­blind indi­vid­ual such as myself might get an effect akin to an Insta­gram fil­ter. My col­ors will pop.

“Unfair,” say Bob and my hus­band. I have to agree. Should the Muse­um of Con­tem­po­rary Art offer col­or-leech­ing glass­es, I will wear them, even if the frames are real­ly ugly. Until then, the video below pro­vides some sense of what those of us who see the full range of col­or aren’t miss­ing.

via Vice

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Pra­do Muse­um Cre­ates the First Art Exhi­bi­tion for the Visu­al­ly Impaired, Using 3D Print­ing

Jorge Luis Borges, After Going Blind, Draws a Self-Por­trait

Helen Keller Speaks About Her Great­est Regret — Nev­er Mas­ter­ing Speech

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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