Two years ago, I was sitting relaxed in my chair listening to the examination of the patient before me. Strangely enough, the doctor’s office didn’t have any door. No doctor patient confidentiality! Can you believe that?
But I didn’t mind! On the contrary, I like listening to people’s stories and problems. There’s always something one can learn from others. But the patient didn’t seem to have too much of a problem. He was at the end of his treatment series and his eyes were recovering perfectly.
It didn’t take long before the doctor took me in. For once, I hadn’t waited more than a few minutes in a doctor’s waiting room. Which was a miracle in this packed suburban area of Paris!
Oh! That’s me! I rushed myself to the room where she asked me to sit behind all the immaculate apparatus one usually sees in these places. Too much white glowing objects in such a small space.
Well! What brings you here ?
Well… It’s difficult to explain… Basically… For a few months now, doctor, I’ve been seeing….
Not all the time but frequently enough.
I look at my alarm clock in the morning and I see double. I look through the window at the little cross on top of the protestant church facing me from rue de Chanzy and I see it double. I look at red lights as I’m trying to cross the streets and they double. Double lights, double cars.
Sometimes I even see my children double which makes them 4 instead of 2. Not a depressing vision but still, something hasn’t been going right.
Also bright lights make my eyes tear up! I can’t watch the morning sun anymore without tears all over the place. Actually, I’ve never cried so much in my life.
Hum… She paused for a while and asked : sir what do you do for a living exactly?
Ah yes! You see doctor, that’s what I was afraid you’d ask.
Well. I’m a painter… And I have been working mad for a year now. Eight hours a day sometimes more.
And I suspect my double vision has something to do with me closing one eye.
Closing one eye? How so?
Well, at the end of a long painting day, when I’ve closed one eye repeatedly to draw accurately, I end up not being able to read or look at my screen for the rest of the evening. It is like having two separate eyes. One is doing something and the other something else, has closed the shop and left for a long vacation.
So… you’re a painter. I didn’t know painters had to close one eye. Don’t you painters inform yourselves? Don’t you read?
Read? What do you mean?
I thought painters knew everything about eyes.
Ah yes… I see what you mean. But why would I read scientific papers about how the eye functions? I’d rather leave that to doctors and scientists.
And you see, painters have been closing one eye to flatten perspective for centuries. Leonardo himself is thought to have done that.
Ah yes. But I’m afraid you can’t go on doing that anymore. (Laughs) You see, we humans, are binocular beings!
And that was it. Couldn’t do it anymore! All these resources telling me to close one eye… And it worked wonders in my painting exercises. How could something so useful be so… harmful?
Lose one eye or stop painting. That was basically what I’ve been told. I was diagnosed with convergent strabismus. I had to change my way of painting.
The doctor had no doubt. Even if other factors might have been at work, she was pretty sure I would lose my binocular vision if I continued this way.
No more judging sight-size errors with one eye closed. No more judging colors with Munsell chips one eye closed.
The doctor was very helpful. She made me come twice a week for 4 months and with a lot of complicated devices and eye-rolling exercises, she had my eyes improve drastically. I escaped wearing prism eyeglasses. She even took the subject up to her monthly meeting of local orthoptists where she was scolded by her elder colleagues.
One should never do that! They told her. Yes but there are lines of work where people need to do that. She replied.
Well, in that case, they should find better ways to handle that but closing one eye is plainly… stupid!
And yes, it was stupid of me to think I would get away with it. I had to reinvent my painting.
My doctor found out that archers and rifle shooters have exactly the same problem. Instead of closing their eye, they shade it with a small screen attached to their glasses (see picture) so that it doesn’t have to close completely and lose all landmarks. It wasn’t the perfect solution though and she told me I had to be careful with it. Exercise my eyes after each painting session and work for shorter periods.
Today, I practically don’t close my right eye anymore. I put my hand in front of it as far as I can so I can see the objects with my other eye (see picture). It does the job well. I haven’t I had any problems since and I’ve regained a lot of my binocular vision.
A year after the visits to the eye doctor, I happened to find articles that talked about some famous painters’ having strabismus. Leonard, Rembrandt, Dürer, Picasso, and others. Whether they happened to have that condition due to closing one eye is an egg and chicken problem. But seeing the world with one eye surely helped them well. We all have to become good and specific at what we do, don’t we? And that entails risks. Doesn’t it?
Yes it does. And risks I can manage. But I still want to be two eyes!