Friday, May 2, 2014

Drawing Autism: Sharing an Experience

Earlier this week, I posted a link to a Brain Pickings article about the re-release of a book called Drawing Autism. It looked super cool, so I decided to explore it a little more and share my findings with all of you. Spring weather and art just seem to go together, don't they?

Three years ago, behavior analyst Jill Mullin put together the original version of Drawing Autism. An expanded edition was released last month. Although autism spectrum disorder still remains one of cognitive science's big mysteries, the range and extent of talents amongst people on the spectrum is becoming more well known. It seems, though, that a grasp on the emotional experience of living with ASD is more evasive. Enter art.

Art often proffers emotional understanding in a way that other media cannot. Its emotional nature and fluidity in meaning makes art, and therefore the experience behind and within it, extremely accessible. Like autism itself, art is spectral and individual, each piece entirely unique and subject to various reactions and effects.

The works in Drawing Autism not only celebrate the talent and self-expression of the artists but also serve as ways of sharing an experience that is difficult to understand. Couple the art with interviews with the artists, some famous and some unknown, and you've got a humbling and beautiful look into the emotional experiences of an oft misunderstood group of people.

Here are some pieces of art with snippets of interviews with their creators:

Donna Williams: 'The Outsider'  

What was the inspiration for this piece?
"The Outsider" is about joining in from the periphery. It's about being able to join because one has retained the right to also leave. It's about treading the boundaries between two worlds. I think it's universal. We have all been the outsider.

Josh Peddle: 'Changing Seasons' (2006, at age 12)

Do you think your art helps others understand how you view the world?
It feels weird when you have autism. I feel silly. It makes me sad thinking about it. People do not understand. Strangers cannot tell by looking at me that I have autism. If I am having trouble, they often want to tell my mom how I should behave. I wish I had more friends that liked me for who I am.

David Barth: 'Vogels' ['Birds' in Dutch] (2008, at age 10)

From an email from David's mother to Jill Mullen:
His drawings often represent his current obsessions. In the attachment I send you, it's not hard to guess what's keeping him busy right now. There are almost 400 birds on it and he knows the names and Latin names of most of them.

Emily L. Williams: 'They Take Away Your Razors, Your Shoelaces, & Your Belt'

What was the inspiration for this piece?
This is a small portion of a larger piece that's yet to be completed. The larger piece is one of three in a series, focusing symbolically on psychiatric units, utilizing Hell as an analogy. The demons in the piece were inspired by 12th century works depicting Hell and the Final Judgment. The piece was also inspired by some of my own hospital stays in the past. While I was never a suicide risk, I always found it odd that none of the patients could have any of the items listed in the title of this piece. I understood the logic and the risk to suicidal patients, but nevertheless still found it strange to be walking around in shoes with their tongues hanging out or to have unshaven legs.

Wil C. Kerner: 'Pals' [collage] (age 12)

What was the inspiration for this piece? [answered by grandmother]
The key in understanding Pals is the brown rimmed off-white donkey ear. Four facial expressions depict the bad boys turning into donkeys in the movie Pinocchio: purple-faced Pinocchio is stunned by his new ear and considering what to do; it's too late for the horrified yellow face; the green trapezoid is oblivious to his pending fate; the blue head is looking away hoping he's not included.

Eric Chen: 'Mirror Mind' poster #3 (2005)

What was the inspiration for the Mirror Mind posters?
I created these posters to commemorate and promote the launch of my self-published autism book,Mirror Mind. The book aims to convey the inner feelings I feel as a person with autism, and the pictures represent a poem from each book.

Neat, right? What do you guys think? Share your thoughts!

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