- my response to an article in JAMA Ophthalmology
Ophthalmology and Art: Simulation of Monet’s Cataracts and Degas’ Retinal Disease”
I found an article about Degas and Monet that tries to illustrate what they might have been able to see by showing their inspiration or their later work and then using Photoshop to try to simulate their kind and degree of vision loss. Their intent is to show how their painting might have looked to them as they worked. It is a fascinating premise. I am here to tell you that, at least for Degas, the simulation misses the mark, based on my personal experience. Having also experienced cataracts and had them corrected, I think the Monet examples are reasonably well represented, although mine were not permitted to “ripen” to the extent that he experienced in his lifetime. See the article here.
I have been pretty quiet about it, but I have been dealing with age-related macular degeneration (“dry” kind, also known as geographic atrophy) for a few years now. It is really difficult to describe how it is to have vision loss generally in the center of the visual field and still have great clarity on either side of the compromised area. The loss is partial, and is different in each eye. Of course we use both eyes together to see, so it can create some odd visual effects at times.
The impact on making marks is also hard to describe. I can no longer place my marking implement exactly where I want to place it. It might be as much as 1/4″ off. Part of the difficulty may be that our habit of using our eyes for reading and writing – and drawing – is to look directly at the spot where we want to focus our attention. In “dry” macular degeneration, that central part of vision is what is diminished. It’s not blurry, more like covered in a fog or simply blank, depending on the lighting.
My solutions so far are, get as close as I can using peripheral vision and make the mark from habit without the immediate visual feedback of seeing the line developing from contact between pen and paper. With many tasks, like signing a check, this is sufficient. For filling in those boxes – or for drawing and painting – it can be frustrating to be unable to see the mark you are making as you make it. Maybe the closest experience most people would have to this would be dirty glasses – if you cleaned your glasses really well and then put a thick blot of vaseline on each lens – just a fingertip’s size – just to the left of center on the left lens and just to the right of center on the right lens. Then you might gain some idea of the impact of AMD.