3d printing in the prado allows blind visitors to touch paintings


The “Touching the Prado” exhibition has demonstrated yet another way that 3d printing in arts and culture can improve the world on a deeply moving human level.

In order to give blind and visually impaired people a realistic sense of the paintings, 3D printing in the Prado has reproduced five of their most famous paintings.

The paintings are: Noli me Tangere, Vulcan’s Forge, The Parasol, La Giaconda, The Nobleman with His Hand on His Chest and Still Life with Artichokes, Flowers and Glass Vessels. Paintings are made to incite an emotional response in the person that views them – each tells a unique story of its own.

But those who are visually impaired are unable to enjoy the emotional responses these stories incite. To remedy this, specific parts have been 3d printed to enhance the experience. For example, when touching The Nobleman with His Hand on His Chest people can feel the eyes, hair and hands. When a visitor already knows the basic story behind the painting, these tactile details are a helpful way for people to fill in the blanks.

A study in the Journal of Neuroscience in fact found that “The ability to quickly process non-visual information probably enhances the quality of life of blind individuals who rely to an extraordinary degree on the non-visual senses”. When I went on a yoga retreat last year one activity involved being blind-folded in the countryside with only a friend to guide you. Taking away sight truly had the effect of sharpening the sensation of both touch and hearing for me.

So how could 3d printing in this way further benefit those who are visually impaired? What about if certain sections of our museums had their pieces 3d printed? At the moment some museums do include braille to give those who are visually impaired a textual understanding of artefacts and paintings, but 3D replicas would surely enhance the experience further.

We applaud the Prado for this wonderful exhibition and while five paintings may not compare to the accessibility of an entire gallery or museum, this is only the beginning of an incomplete story.

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