I remember being handed a pencil to draw on my first day at primary school, and thinking there was an artistry in the bold black lines left on white paper by charcoal. I thought I was an artist, but to be fair, what I draw hasn’t improved that much in 30 years.
Over the past few months I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting and talking to many artists with autism. These amazing people not only see the world completely differently, but they have the innate ability to translate their version of reality on to a blank piece of paper with such skill that it leaves the the onlooker in awe.
Individuals with autism have great visual depth and children with a diagnosis are very visually orientated. Art is not only a way of developing their imagination, but a form of communication deeper than words. As children and adults grow to understand that words are not only literal, a paint brush, pencil, watercolour or charcoal can help then work out their thoughts very visually.
Art therapy is a way for autistic children to improve their communication skills and have a better understanding of facial recognition terms such as ‘sad’, ‘happy’ and ‘angry’, and for the people who care for them to have a visual representation of what these emotions look like to the child.
A great book for reference here is Drawing Autism, published by Mark Batty Publishers which contains an introduction by Temple Grandin. It’s a wealth of drawings from autistic children and a celebration of art in childhood.
With art centres opening up specifically focused on therapy for autistic children and young adults through art (Michael Tolleson who we featured here has opened one up in Washington for example) teachers resources are also available for a better understanding of art through autism.
In the next installment we look at specific artists who have used their autism to enhance their artworks.