What the spectrum of difference has to do with 12th-century demons and Google Earth.
By Maria Popova
Autism is one of the greatest modern mysteries of cognitive science, a highly faceted condition that remains largely misunderstood. We’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.
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.
Wil’s grandmother explains:
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.”
To make the collaborations as powerful and authentic as possible, NASA gave the participating artists unprecedented access to the agency’s facilities and, in some cases, even lent them prized equipment to ensure true-to-life portrayal. NASA’s second administrator, James Webb, who directed the launch of the program, remarked:
Important events can be interpreted by artists to provide unique insight into significant aspects of our history-making advances into space. An artistic record of this nation’s program of space exploration will have great value for future generations and may make a significant contribution to the history of American art.
Indeed, the project is beautifully aligned with NASA’s mission “to reach for new heights and reveal the unknown so that what we do and learn will benefit all humankind,” yet it bears a bittersweet hue of lamentation as we remember to wonder how, in its present state of neglect, funding for space exploration will continue to support such inspired fringes. But at least we have these vintage gems to make our cosmic-kindled hearts glow. Enjoy.