Artist Sargy Mann: Making Paintings Without Sight

“In the last weeks of his life, the artist Sargy Mann began writing about his extraordinary career as a blind painter. The last 10 years of his life, after his eyesight had failed completely, were paradoxically his most successful – his final exhibition opened in London this week, two months after his death. Here he reflects on the nature of perception and the visual experiences that continue after the loss of sight.” BBC

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Artist Sargy Mann

Artist Sargy Mann

Excerpt: Sargy Mann: How a blind painter sees-BBC

“…In October 1979 a retinal detachment rendered me quite blind in my right eye and then, shortly afterwards, the retina in my left eye detached. Throughout the 1980s I had numerous operations in my seeing left eye, always leaving me with less sight, worse sight, but – and this was what interested me – changed sight, so that after each convalescence, I had to learn again to see the world and to try to paint it.

Blind Artist Sargy Mann.

Blind Artist Sargy Mann.

In 1989, the eye hospital registered me blind, not partially sighted, but blind. I, on the other hand, on two or more occasions, went into the hospital announcing that I had located a tiny hole or tear in the extreme periphery of my retina.

Sargy Mann painting- Bristol Rooftops

Sargy Mann painting- Bristol Rooftops

In May 1990 we moved from London to Suffolk and I almost entirely gave up oil painting from direct observation. I simply couldn’t see and understand enough. Instead I painted, often on large 6ft-wide canvases, from short-term memory and tape recordings that I had made while looking at my subject, and asking questions of whoever might be around at the time.

Painter Sargy Mann recording of the subject on a dictaphone. Photo- BBC

Painter Sargy Mann recording of the subject on a dictaphone. Photo- BBC

Listening to my recording, brush in hand, in front of the painting, these two ways of looking resulted in very different marks on the painting…

Sargy Mann painting.

Sargy Mann painting.

Painter Sargy Mann (29 May 1937 – 5 April 2015)

Painter Sargy Mann (29 May 1937 – 5 April 2015)

Of course, I would never have chosen to become a blind painter but I have been thrilled to discover that I can make paintings without sight, and that this activity is far more like a continuation of my painting experience than I could possibly have imagined.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions:  Have students  examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. After they examine the photos, ask students to create a list of  words and  ideas  that they think might be related to this article. 

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

Pre-reading Organizer By Scholastic

II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Mann had cataract extractions in both eyes.
  2. He discovered an astonishingly beautiful world.
  3. The memory stayed as a sort of talisman.
  4. Mann became interested in the anatomy of the eye.
  5. The ophthalmologists  were helpful.
  6. They cut away a lot of his iris.
  7. His brain adjusted to the much brighter level of ambient light.
  8. He never looked at the painting through the telescope.
  9. The painting looked extraordinary.
  10. There was two different ways of perceiving the art.
Vocabulary Organizer by Against the Odds

Vocabulary Organizer by Against the Odds

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading. If a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.

  1. Mr. Mann had  a retinal detachment in October 2006.
  2. At age 35, he  had cataract extractions in both eyes.
  3. According to Mann, the only comparable experience was one involving  a car accident that  he had.
  4. In 2008 Mann  had  his first first one-man show.
  5. In 2004  the eye hospital registered him blind.
  6. Mann has three children who also paint.
  7. Mann had numerous operations throughout the 1700s.
  8. Terry Raybould was a painter friend.
  9. Mann’s final exhibition opened in Russia.
  10. Mann  painted  from short-term memory and tape recordings.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. After one operation they cut away a lot of my iris.
  2. To began with I had to paint wearing dark glasses.
  3. I learned to adjust for different levels of ambient light.


  1. I had my first one-man show.
  2. I  had always preferred painting on bright light.
  3. I went to Portugal and southern India.


  1. I worked only through the telescope.
  2. I had occasionally used photomontages before.
  3. I had another exhibition, which also gone well.

III. Post Reading Tasks

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the following discussion topics.

1. The following  two statements were taken from the article. Rephrase each statement in your own words, then discuss the meaning with the members of your group.

“Reasonably enough, people always want to know how I arrive at the color in my paintings when I can’t see at all. It is worth mentioning here that most people, I think, dream in full and perfect color. I certainly do, and when one is asleep one is perceptually blind, so the brain can do it – though God knows how.”

“I can imagine colour and colour combinations pretty well and I wonder, is it so very different from a composer or arranger of music working on manuscript paper… I cover the whole canvas from my imaginings, and my knowledge of my pigments and how they look in different combinations.”

Visual Creations Activity

Directions: Have students close their eyes and see if they can recreate various  paintings from memory. Have an art exhibit to show off each painting!


Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about Sargy Mann from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.


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