Children and Established Artists Draw Their Autism

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In Drawing Autism, works of art offer visions of the world that their creators often are unable to communicate

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Autism is one of the greatest modern mysteries of cognitive science, a multifaceted condition that remains largely misunderstood. I've previously explored several notable autistic outliers—British savant Stephen Wiltshire, who draws remarkable 3D panoramas of cities from memory; animal scientist Temple Grandin, who is equally well-known for her innovations in livestock herding and her autism advocacy; and autistic savant Daniel Tammet, who was able to learn Icelandic in a week, among other remarkable feats of memory. But what is the actual experience of living with autism in a deep-felt sense, beyond the social stereotypes and headline-worthy superskills? Drawing Autism, a celebration of the artistry and self-expression found in artwork by people diagnosed with autism, explores just that.

The stunning volume, with an introduction by Grandin herself, features works by more 50 international contributors, from children to established artists, that illustrate the rich multiplicity of the condition -- which we hesitate to call a "disorder" as we subscribe to the different, not lesser view of autism -- and the subjective experience of each autistic individual. Thanks to Will of 50 Watts for the wonderful images.

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"Who are some artists that you like?"

"None. I study road maps and atlases in detail and generally I scroll the full track of our trips on Google Earth."

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"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."

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Drawing Autism comes from Mark Batty Publisher—one of my favorite independent voices at the intersection of visual art and thoughtful cultural commentary, whom you may recall from The Unruly Alphabet, Drainspotting, Pioneers of Spanish Graphic Design, and Noma Bar's fantastic Negative Space illustrations.


This post also appears on Brain Pickings.
Images: Mark Batty Publisher

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Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings. She writes for Wired UK and GOOD, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

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