Professor John M Kennedy

John M. Kennedy, born 1942 Belfast, Northern Ireland, studied psychology at Queen’s University Belfast (BSc 1965, MSc 1966) and Cornell (PhD 1971), and was Assistant Professor at Harvard 1970-72 before coming to UTSC in 1972.

Kennedy’s doctorate was on perception. He asked what a line can stand for in outline pictures. He proposed that since the sighted use outline to show surface edges, and touch can detect surfaces and edges, the blind could understand the referents of raised-line pictures. His tests with blind adults and children in Canada, the US, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Haiti supported his conjecture. With graduate student Andrea Nicholls, he showed that the kinds of drawings sighted children produce are also produced by the blind as they begin to draw, as adults or children. He found drawing development is similar in the blind and sighted. He devised a theory of perspective’s influences on visual and tactile perception, and showed that the sense of direction available to the blind allows them to draw objects and scenes in perspective. Pictures showing surface edges and perspective are realistic, and unrealistic pictures can be metaphoric. He showed the blind can devise metaphoric pictorial devices that are understood by the sighted. His work answers questions about form, vision and touch raised by Locke (1690) and Diderot (1749).

Most recently, with graduate student Igor Juricevic, Kennedy developed a theory of visual perspective, accounting for accurate shape perception and apparent distortions. With graduate student Sherief Hammad, Kennedy has devised a theory of perspective illusions in vision. With graduate student Juan Bai he showed how visual outline represents surfaces and not colour or brightness borders. With graduate student Tyler Roncero and colleague Ron Smyth, he proposed and successfully supported a theory of use of metaphor, using the resources of the Internet. His 2008 publications include a study of a Japanese blind woman at her own behest inventing the realistic and metaphoric outline devices he proposed in his “Drawing and the Blind” (1993).

Kennedy’s work has supported major changes in practice in education, publication, and museums and galleries throughout the world. Art colleges now graduate blind artists e.g. in New Zealand. Books with raised illustrations for blind children are now published e.g. in Poland and Russia. Art Education for the Blind NY has published a 20-volume history of art for the blind. The American Printing House for the Blind has picture books for the blind of all ages. Programs on depiction and art are now available for the blind in The Metropolitan Museum of New York, the Louvre and the Tate, for example. In Italy, Ancona and Bologna have opened museums for the blind with representational art as their focus.

Kennedy’s honours include Fellow 2008-9 Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin, Fellow 2005 of the Royal Society of Canada, and the 2002 Rudolf Arnheim Award for Outstanding Contributions to Psychology and the Arts: American Psychological Association. His work is of wide public interest. It was featured in “Touch,” best 2008 Canadian documentary/short film in Science/Medicine, and Research, and “The colours of darkness,” 2001, Best Foreign Video, New York Film Festival. A Discovery Channel documentary on Kennedy’s research on perspective and a blind man from Turkey has been downloaded over 400,000 times 2008-9. The Times listed his work as among the Top 10 Ideas and Inventions of 2002, and the New York Times listed it as among ideas that changed the way we think in 2002. Kennedy was the Editor of Metaphor & Symbol 1997-01, and the President of Psychology and the Arts 1992-3. His pictures drawn by blind people have been exhibited at the Smithsonian (1992) and the National Gallery Ottawa (2008). Kennedy has been a visiting professor at Monash (Australia), Salzburg (Austria), Maribor (Slovenia), Linkoping (Sweden) and Aarhus (Denmark). He is Fellow of the American and Canadian Psychological Associations, and Fellow of the International Society for Emprical Aesthetics.

At University of Toronto, Kennedy was Chair of Life Sciences, UTSC, 2003-06, and President of the Toronto Semiotic Circle 1991-2. At UTSC he won the 1994 Teaching Award.