Action Against Artism?

There is a very interesting and enjoyable discussion about art and autism on Kevin Leitch’s Left Brain/Right Brain blog.After reading that I discovered this item from The Scotsman courtesy of the NAS press office. (One of the perks of being a member of the NAS Council is that I get a daily list of autism related news stories.)


AMONG those given MBEs in this year’s New Year Honours was the artist Stephen Wiltshire. A big success, his immensely detailed cityscapes fly off gallery walls. He is also autistic. But are the two connected?

Ioan James, a professor of geometry at Oxford, is writing a book investigating whether Andy Warhol, among other influential figures in the arts, mathematics and history, suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. His use of grid patterns, paralysing shyness and tendency to repetitious behaviour may be clues that he did. Michael Fitzgerald’s The Genesis of Artistic Creativity: Asperger’s Syndrome and the Arts suggests it could also be added to Van Gogh’s list of ailments. Likewise, LS Lowry. Seems that Scottish painter Peter Howson, who realised as an adult he was an Asperger’s sufferer, is in good company.

James has said characteristics associated with creativity – “perseverance, perfectionism, disregard for social conventions and unconcern about the opinions of others” – are remarkably like those associated with Asperger’s.”

The references to “suffering from Asperger’s” and AS being “a mild form of autism” do grate a little. But this is a piece of journalism so I will pass over these inaccuracies in order to deal with a much more serious misrepresentation.

In Edinburgh, meanwhile, the work of three remarkable young artists is at the Atticsalt Gallery, 50 Thistle Street North East Lane, until next Saturday, to raise funds for the Autism Treatment Trust. Lloyd Allanson, 10, Danielle McLernon, 14 and Louis Larochelle, 9, all suffer from autism to different degrees and all have produced artwork with an unusual degree of attentiveness and maturity.

I am not surprised that Lloyd’s paintings show an unusual degree of maturity. After all they were painted by his mother, albeit based upon his drawings, done when he was five.

Exhibition organiser Lorene Amet, Lloyd’s mother, says: “A lot of people have autism. Are they more talented than others? I don’t think you can be sure. I think their work stands out because it’s different, they perceive the world differently.”

Lloyd’s mother wants to stop people like Lloyd from perceiving the world differently. She is a DAN! practitioner and practises on her son. The exhibition is a fundraiser for a new charity set up by Action Against Autism. All the proceeds from this exhibition are going to fund a treatment centre offering biomedical interventions. Lorene Amet is chair of the Autism Treatment Trust and a director of Action Against Autism.

I expect she will be quick to point out the mistake by the Scotsman in attributing her paintings to her son and look forward to reading a correction in the Scotsman.

I do not expect the members of Action Against Autism to question the morality of taking the artistic endeavours of autistic children and using them to raise money to “cure” the altered perceptions that were responsible for artworks that show “an unusual degree of attentiveness and maturity.”

9 thoughts on “Action Against Artism?

  1. Thank you for this, Mike Stanton.

    I would add that if autistics “stim” on visuals, as they seem to (staring at spinning things and sparkly things) then they may have a different approach to color and shape than do typical people.

    In taking art history classses it seemed that I was the only student whose jaw would drop and would gasp at the beauty of a particular piece of art being projected from a slide projector. I’d look around to see how many other students were experiencing the awe, and I never did see another person reacting like I did. Which is totally unscientific, but I’ve had the same thing happen with music where I was stunned by some piece of “live” music and looked around to see who else had been “transported” by the music, and no one else seemed to be reacting like I was… though maybe I just have poorer control of my emotions or something.

    I hope the Action against Autism fails miserably in their goal to cure autism/artism.

    Oh, and there’s a lot of evidence for Andy Warhol being on the spectrum. I have written a couple of college papers about him in art history classes. (now I’m a psych major, I was an art history major almost 2 years ago)

  2. Thank you Camille. I have just finished watching a BBC documentary on Andy Warhol. He certainly fits the bill. have you published your college papers on him? I would like to read them.

  3. Hi,
    I’m a Curator of Art and did the Jonathan Lerman exhibit here in Canada. I whole heartedly agree with your post. I chose Lerman’s work to raise positive awareness about autism and ability, not to raise money. I believe that we need to make way for his work as well as the work of others labeled autistic.

    We need not justify or denigrade their work by using such terms as “showing an unusual maturity.” That’s ridiculous. I chose Jonathan’s work on artistic premise. His work is strong, gestural and lucid — one can only make a point about this if we choose strong work. In art, as in writing or music there is good work and there is “nice” work — the makings of a type of therapy or work for oneself.

    I am looking at art from a very critical eye when I exhibit someone’s work. I also value the creative process for others as cathartic — there can be both.

    But in the case of Lerman, he not only refutes all theories about autism, but is a strong artist in his own rite. He is an artist first, and a person labeled autistic second.


  4. Thank you Estee.

    I love the Lerhman piece that is on display at the MIND institute. I’d love to have a print of it.

    Mike, I’ll see if the papers are hiding on my computer here and send you what I find.


  5. Estee,
    I am interested in your comment that Lerman “refutes all theories about autism.” Would you care to expand on that? BTW I like your blog. It gives me lots to agree with and plenty to think about.

    thank you for looking. I suppose it is my friend Larry Arnold who has really made me think about the creative abilities of autistics. His website is well worth a visit

  6. Hi Mike,

    Yes…the theories about a lack of theory of mind, an incapability of recognizing emotional states, a cognitive delay..Jonathan’s work refutes these common mythologies. I think this group here understands the absurdity of those ideas. Jonathan’s work and other manifestations of the human spirit — art, music, literature, philosopy, and other areas I am not an expert in, science and mathematics and other’s not mentioned here — show that we can express our observations and our ideas in more ways than one.

    Thanks for the compliment, btw. Your blog inspires me as well.

    Camille, I appreciated a few of your comments recently in the Rankin debate. I agree with you.


  7. One more thing — I do believe the visual is more accute for persons with autism. I am presently looking at the photographs of Michael Moon who captures what he sees with the eye of the camera. I find his work amazing on its own and utterly fascinating for me to catch a glimpse of how he sees things. His website can be linked from mine, and I am showing some of his photographs at the event I am putting together in October.


  8. Some of richard wawro’s work is on ebay at the moment if anyone is interested. One piece is the same piece of art used in the movie With Eyes Wide Open about Richard.

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