Emilie Gossiaux gives visual arts students a lesson in perception

Artist Emilie Gossiaux recently challenged a room full of visual arts students in a master class at Interlochen Arts Academy with a unique task: creating an original art piece in five days that utilizes at least two senses other than sight.

When one thinks of interpreting or creating art, sight is usually the most common sense brought to mind. Especially within the context of “visual” arts. But Gossiaux has become adept at expressing her paintings and sculptures through her other senses since losing her sight in 2010. Since then, she has refined her artistry to reflect the importance of involving all the senses.

Her class of 27 students, mainly juniors and seniors from the school’s New Genres and Junior Portfolio classes, listened carefully as Gossiaux described other contemporary art exhibits using a slideshow. She had given an art history workshop earlier that day, and would be speaking to the entire student body at an upcoming Community Meeting as part of her weeklong instruction on sensing art. Her visit culminated with an original art exhibit titled Unfixtures in the school’s Visual Arts Gallery.

Aided by her dog, London, and with fellow artist Nathan Abbe, Gossiaux met with individual students and discussed their ideas for her assignment. She listened attentively to their ideas on medium and voice and theme, and offered insight by expanding on the students’ viewpoints.

One student, Dorian White, a junior, was creating a wearable glove made of chocolate brown burlap to express how skin color can affect perception. Gossiaux suggested he make it harder to get on, emphasizing the struggle to make it fit. She asked questions about smell and texture, wondering if he could use heat or moisture to make the glove more physically repellant.

“Think about how it will feel,” she told another student. “What’s calming about it, and what makes you back away from it.”

To others she recommended they consider how the physical environment of the presentation may impact their pieces. “How is it going to hang?” “Is there going to be light on it?” “Maybe you could include some sound to make it more soothing.” “You could put something in the middle of it to encourage viewers to walk into it, like a reward. Maybe chocolate!”

In each meeting with students, Gossiaux stressed the importance of including as many senses as possible when creating and experiencing art. She spent as much time as she could with each student, listening more than talking, and answering every question that each student had.

Not yet 30, Gossiaux has already won the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Award of Excellence (2013) and the Elliot Lash Memorial Prize for Excellence in Sculpture (2014). She lives and works in New York City, and currently works as the museum educator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art there.