Art in Living Color

Art in Living Color

Art museums are institutions that celebrate color, yet people who are colorblind walk through the doors at a disadvantage, unable to fully enjoy the creations around them. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has a solution. MCA patrons can borrow a pair of EnChroma glasses, which allow most colorblind people to see a broader array of colors.

Colorblindness is more accurately called color vision deficiency, says Smajo Osmanovic, MD, an ophthalmologist with Arlington Eye Physicians in Arlington Heights. “That’s when you can’t recognize the hues of colors,” he says.

The brain translates light wavelengths filtered through cone cells in the eyes as colors, Osmanovic says. Colorblindness is caused when the cone cells in the eyes are flawed. This condition, usually genetic, is more prevalent in men than women, affecting 8 percent of men and only 0.5 percent of women in North America.

The MCA has two pairs of EnChroma glasses, which look like sunglasses with a specialized lens that filters out specific colors. As many as four patrons borrow them each week, says Amanda Abernathy, MCA’s visitor services system manager.

“Their reactions have been incredibly inspiring,” she says. “We’ve had several [people] come back in tears; one saying the art had come alive for him.”

It’s a truly bright opportunity for colorblind individuals to find a new appreciation for the art around them.—Jeffrey Westhoff

Originally published in the Spring 2017 print edition