Written in June 2023
Last weekend we (Autistic Radio) had a Spectrum Voices Conversation about art. We didn't get a lot of time to discuss it because the meeting portion of the broadcast went on longer than usual, thanks in part to some tech issues (which is totally on-brand for us!). So, I'm expanding my thoughts on art and autism into a blog post.
Via a really smooth segue about this blog being art. See, I don't consider it to be art. It's not a creative writing kinda thing, although I do put effort into crafting sentences with things like alliteration or rhetorical callbacks to analogies that make sense if they have a first class ticket for my train of thought. See what I did there? Aaaand that is a good example of why I'm not sure this is art.
Ok, so art does make people think and it starts conversations and my blog writing has done that, but it's not something that I feel is expressive, nor evokes that sort of reaction in others but again, the creator cannot state the intended reaction to their output, that is the role of the receiver. So maybe in those two ways, this blog could be considered to be art.
The other reason I don't consider it to be art is because I do things that are a creative output (in my mind). I embroider, and am working on a freestyle landscape at the moment. I have also recently painted a t-shirt, I take photos which I use as the images for this blog (just with my phone camera but it's the framing and angle which I try and consider) that sometimes could be considered to be evocative of the subject but that's a lucky coincidence.
These pursuits are largely for my own enjoyment and won't evoke any kind of emotional reaction in anyone because they're not really for public consumption. They also don't function as an expression of anything in me, just something I like the aesthetics of. So in my own weird way, I don't consider those things to be art, despite having a tangible creative output.
Personal introspective ramblings aside, art can be a really great tool for autistic people to express feelings that they may not be able to put into words (for whatever reason) through painting or sculpture or multi-media pieces. It can be a soothing activity for the brain, allowing our thoughts to run and the processes to happen while we engage in something else (and I guess that's what embroidery does for me so perhaps that quasi-qualifies it as art?).
It can also be something we have an amazing gift for, like the extreme miniature sculptures made by neurodivergent artist Willard Wigan. His works are so tiny that he has actually inhaled some by accident, and must work around his heartbeat because the barely detectable motion of the pulse in his hands can destroy the work. The sculptures and paintings he creates are smaller than the head of a match, or fit in the eye of a needle. His tiniest work was carved from a human hair. It takes the hyperfocus of an autistic person to achieve this kind of artistic output.
There's also Steven Wiltshire who is known for his photographic memory and ability to draw incredibly detailed cityscapes on vast scales after seeing the reference material for only a short amount of time. He drew a 13 foot panorama of London over 5 days following a helicopter ride across the city, and used no reference materials or notes in the process. Both Stephen and Willard have MBEs for the contributions to the art world.
Non-speaking (his term) autistic poet and creator Adam Wolfond is someone for whom art is their expression, art, language and movement is their being and the output is a direct expression of the internal experience. It is hard to describe Wolfond's work save to say that it is in a league apart from the way many poets use language to create expression. I cannot do it justice so please visit his site and engage with the material for yourself.
Closer to my neck of the woods is an exhibition by the Pallant House Gallery's Community Programme in Chichester. The works are on the theme of “A Place of My Own”, and show a diversity of media used and of interpretation of the theme. My friend's painting was chosen to be the promotional image for the exhibition, for which I am very proud of her. Next month we'll be meeting for lunch to see the exhibition (with a special appearance by the models!).
In summing up I still don't know if I consider my blogging to be art, nor any of the other artistic pursuits I follow for fun (beyond their aesthetic value, that is), but there are some amazing neurodivergent creators out there who definitely do make art.
Art that makes you think.
Art that makes you feel.
Art that inspires awe.
Art that educates.
And that's what I wanted to bring attention to.