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Meet Kendall Cowle

Kendall Cowle is a visual artist about to embark on studying for her PhD who also happens to have CVIs. You can meet Kendall at the CVI Society Convention 2019, details to be published at the beginning of June.

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

Why do you want to study a visual subject when you have a visual impairment?!

If attending my first university interview was not stressful enough, I was immediately presented with a question which placed emphasis on my disability rather than my academic achievement and passion for the visual arts. At first I paused in disbelief thinking how on earth do I respond to that? In hindsight perhaps I was naive to think that my vision would not be subject to questioning when applying to study a visual arts subject but it was something I had not mentally prepped myself for and at that time I felt there was only one logical answer to such a question "...because I appreciate what I can see..." needless to say it did not become my university of choice. Of course if I am honest, it was not an entirely irrelevant question and I was not offended by the question in itself but by the idea that my visual impairment was somehow considered to be significantly more important than my academic achievements when deciding whether I was to be offered a place on the course.

So... Why did I choose to study a visual subject when I have a visual impairment?

I have always been passionate about art and music, and I have always had CVI though the latter I only became physically aware of at the age of 21 when I begun studying Fine Art at college. Throughout my childhood I was simply a clumsy child often seen as a little peculiar. In my first year of college I began to be introduced to theories of colour and visual perception and I started to notice that certain things which were defined as 'typical' for human perception did not relate to me at all. I began to think I was somehow broken as my visual experiences did not make sense re. what theories suggested, even those around me were a little perplexed and often frustrated because no matter how much we tried to break it down, it was like I was trying to learn a completely different visual language. This often caused me anxiety and self doubt, often along with minor injures from walking into and tripping over seemingly obvious objects. I was referred to the college psychologist for a short while because of my anxieties, who felt that I needed to get a referral to a vision specialist though my GP.

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

Since my diagnosis I found my interest in the visual arts was further emphasised by the curiosity of my own visual experiences which I had established were unlike anyone else around me. I began to question if what I was seeing was the truth, I often asked my friends to describe what they were seeing and would mentally compare notes, in the beginning I even wondered if knowing was actually a good thing or a bad thing. This greatly influenced my decision to study an undergraduate degree in Visual Communication at University and my recently completed Masters of Research in Fine Art. Going to university is often described as the time when you can truly discover yourself, and I can wholeheartedly say that I did.

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

Throughout my Masters Degree I used Fine Art as a way to explore the perceptual characteristics of my visual experiences peculiar to living with CVI, to generate an individual narrative of my visual experience of combining a right homonymous hemianopia, manifest latent nystagmus and fluctuating visual acuity. Through this I have been able to establish perceptual limitations which are distinctive of my individual visual experiences and those which are simply characteristic of human visual perception in general. Something I will be further exploring throughout my PhD which I anticipate starting in September.

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

A brief example of the visual peculiarity which arises from my CVI is my perception of optical illusions.When presented with the Fraser Spiral https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Fraserspiralillusion#/media/File:Fraser_spiral.svg
(you can download the image here) I do not see the spiral as described by those with neurotypical perception but observe only the individual circles.

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

This is also the case for the Cafe wall Illusion https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caféwallillusion#/media/File:Caféwall.svg (Again it can be downloaded here) I do not see the wall to be distorted as described as seen by those with neurotypical perception but only observe the horizontal lines to be parallel. One thing that I continue to be curious about is if my perception of optical illusions are individual to my visual experience of CVI or if others with CVI also experience this similar peculiarity in some form or another but I have yet come across anyone else with CVI to ask, so if you do have CVI and would be willing to share your experiences I would be absolutely delighted to connect with you at the CVI Convention in November!

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

Finally if you are interested in how I visualise the world though CVI, want to ask me any questions or just want to see pretty colourful art you can head to my website www.crazysheep.co.uk where you will also find my contact details.

Kendall CowleKendall Cowle

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