Artists with Macular Degeneration

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Macular degeneration, which is a disease of the retina, is one of the most common causes of vision loss in older adults. In this illness, the macula, which is the central part of the retina, becomes damaged leaving the affected individual with only peripheral vision. Although this illness usually found in individuals aged over 55, Edgar Degas (French 1834-1917) had his first symptom at age 36. The condition, which began in his right eye, eventually affected his left eye as well. Even without central vision, Degas was determined to work. Unable to stand the glare of the sun, Degas painted indoors, creating interior scenes, portraits, and images of ballet dancers. When his eyesight deteriorated so that he could no longer see the fine lines his brush made with oil paint, Degas changed to pastels where the thick chalk lines were easier to see. These pastels are his most popular works. As his vision worsened and Degas could no longer see the chalk lines, he turned to sculpture, using his hands to help in his determination to remain creative.

For most of her life, Georgia O'Keeffe (American, 18871986) had excellent vision but in her later years, she developed wet macular degeneration in both eyes along with a rupture of capillaries in the retina of her left eye. Faced with diminishing vision, O'Keeffe started to simplify her forms. She also worked from photographs and from her memory saying, "You paint from your subject, not what you see." For a while, O'Keeffe, like Degas, turned to sculpture, but she returned to painting, stating that it was central to her life.

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