This month's feature......
Lee Brozgol, Teaching Artist for the Visually ImpairedLee Brozgol, like all ceramicists and potters, considers himself a visual artist, working in a medium that seeks appreciation through the eyes of the viewer. Yet, Brozgol teaches ceramics to a group of students with visual impairments ranging from high partial to full vision loss. In his decade of work teaching ceramics at Visions in New York City, he has come to redefine his idea of what it means “to see,” enriched his concept of color, and has explored the creative process within the framework of the human need for expression.
Brozgol’s work with the visually impaired began when he was working at a day program for visually impaired older adults. Technical support was offered from Visions, Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. When the day program lost funding, Brozgol applied for a social worker job at Visions. “They called me up,” he says, “and asked me how I felt about being a ceramics teacher. I said yes.”
Once a week, Brozgol teaches a two-hour class of about 12 students with a wide range of visual impairments. He describes his approach: “The first thing I do is orient the students to the classroom. I describe the room arrangement and take them to the tools, the slab roller, the supplies. I show them three basic techniques: the pinch pot, slab construction, and coil construction. Then I tell them, ‘You’re on your own. I’m here to guide you.’” Brozgol uses a “hand-over-hand” teaching procedure, standing behind the student and guiding the hands in the technique. “One of the first things I ask them is whether they are comfortable with me touching them,” he explains. The extremely tactile nature of clay is conducive to this hands-on instruction technique.
Brozgol marvels at how similar he finds instructing these students to his past experiences. “One thing you realize right away is that you don’t have to watch your use of words like ‘look’ or ‘see.’ These folks really appreciate beauty.” He tells of a completely blind student feeling the finished pot of a classmate and exclaiming, “Oh my gosh – this is beautiful!”
Brozgol’s students do not limit their appreciation of their work to form alone. A full selection of glazes is offered to add the element of color to the works. Brozgol says, “My best glazer is completely blind.” He engages his students in discussions about the nature of color. They find a bridge between a common experience and a color. For example, the similarities between the experience of warming oneself by a fire and eating a hot pepper can evoke the color red. Finding the essential element in these two experiences gives the person “knowledge” of red that can then be applied when creating a work of art. Brozgol’s students have varied technical facility, but each has a personal approach in relation to his or her visual impairment. Some focus on the process, exploring the manipulation of the physical properties of clay. Others focus on the product. Each, however, is restored in some way by the expression of the creative part of the self. In working with his students, Brozgol has looked anew at the nature of perception. His students have a “vision” of a person that is constructed of perceptions – perceptions of the sound of a voice, the rhythm of a gait, an aura of being. These elements, like the elements of a work of art, combine to create a vision – a vision that is so clear that the blind person can say confidently, “Oh I know him – he’s tall and blonde.”
When asked how his work with the blind has changed his own art, Brozgol says that, mostly, it has not. “The overwhelming thing I have learned in working with these students is that there is nothing different about them,” he remarks. Upon reflection, he comments that the teaching process has made him more aware of the specifics of the art. “I have to be very specific with these students and that has impacted how I think. I am reminded to stay with the details. That specificity has crept into my work, making it very articulated.” Brozgol’s art explores the relationship between subject and object and the particular nature of each. With his visually impaired students, he has learned much about our misperceptions about perception. Just as his students come to “know” a color through subjective perception, the viewer of a work of art comes to know the artist’s expression through his work. Brozgol says, “Through the exploration of perception and the creative process, we have created a union, of sorts, between the sighted and the blind – everyone gets inside the same reality.” This description of the communal experience is also apropos to Brozgol’s work as a social worker. Whether through the manipulation of wet clay or the telling of life stories, common perception – the union of subject and object – leads to the enrichment of human experience and understanding.
To see more of Lee Brozgol’s work, visit https://www.etsy.com/shop/elbrozzie?ref=si_shop
For more information about programs for the visually impaired, visit