Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Autism and Art

I recently watched a documentary about a young girl of four called Marla Olmstead and her almost prodigy-wise ability to paint at a level that did not fit her age. I watched with disbelief and a great deal of skepticism. Something in the documentary struck me in a more profound manner than her ability to paint in a way far beyond my means.

An art critic spoke about the concept of Modernism and how we often react to artwork in that category. He said that unfortunately, if a piece of art does not seem to explain itself or is transparent in what it’s trying to achieve then the art is often seen as inherently bad. It is the work of art’s fault that we don't understand it, not our own. 

This struck a cord in me. I have never heard such a beautiful analogy of what people with autism so often have to cope with in their lives. If the person with autism cannot explain themselves, or are not transparent in the way the viewer expects or demands, it is often seen as the persons' fault. Not the viewers'.

I experienced my diagnosis as a blessing with the positive aspects massively outweighing the negatives i.e. people often see the term autism as a label. I have always felt different, as if the world was not made for me but have always known that I would find the answer to why I felt this way. I have of course had my dark moments, like so many others who get a diagnosis later in life. Those moments will never leave me. I will never be able to forget. But, I do not see this as a bad thing.

They help remind me of how strong I am and how I should never accept anything less than what I am capable of.

As an artist, these moments only help to color my work. They have helped me reach greater emotional depths within emotions that none of us really want to have to face in life. As I progress with my artistic development, I find myself asking the question that many artist's ask themselves; how does my creative process work and is it any different to that of other artists'? However, my question now has an added dimension to it; the dimension of autism.

How is my creative process different to that of an artist without autism?

My brain is wired differently, that much is almost certain within the medical community. Could this be my answer? I don't think so. I think that this is almost a necessity for someone who aims to be an artist! Whether it be on the level of actual genetics, how you choose to interpret the world or how your mind chooses to see it.

I don't want to go too deep into the semantics of it, but needless to say, you view the world in a different way and feel the need to communicate this 'other' view.

I suppose I could say I don't have a choice in how I see the world. There is no on or off button that I can use when details almost physically jump out at me (not handy if ​you're already vertically challenged!) or when the sunlight gets too bright. But then I'm sure if the artist Edvard Munch was standing over my shoulder he would debate this with me. Pointing out that when he experienced the moment upon which 'The Scream' is based, he had no choice but to hear the scream of nature as the sun was setting during an evening walk.

So if it is not my brain’s wiring or my choice in how I see the world, what could be the difference...if any?

What do I use to facilitate my creative process?


When I am in my studio, working through the hundreds of images I have shot and selecting those that have most potential, I often listen to music. And recently, I have become aware of a certain pattern in how I go about my work. Depending on my mood or on the emotion I want to convey with the image I am working on, I will play music that will call up that required emotion. Now we are all aware of how music affects us; good or bad, happy or sad.

But I seem to have taken it a step further. Emotions are frightening, weird, unsure random concepts that can be good and bad all at the same time. Or at least that's what they are in my world.

How can I then imbue my artwork with the emotion I want it to convey?

By playing music that will open up the door/s to that specific emotion or collection of emotions. The depth of the image changes through the emotional depth the music calls up in me.

I do not dictate what the end result is going to be, but I am actively seeking to control in some small way what is going to come out of the creative process. This is something that many artists try to do.

My autism is therefore enabling me to achieve this in an almost intuitive and effortless way. Now if that's not an advantage of having autism, I don't know what is!

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