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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Monday, November 21, 2005

I'm hoping that many people will come to Jonathan's opening on December 1st at Lonsdale Gallery. He and his father are driving up from New York to be at the opening. TV will be there. I want everyone to come, afterall, this is a show to promote awareness about autism that is becoming so prevalent. I do not want my son to live on the margins of society, and no autistic person should have to.

I'm including an excerpt on Jonathan's work in the context of art-history:

Art And Autism

When Jonathan Lerman (b.1987) was barely three years old, his parents noticed that instead of continuing to develop normal intellectual abilities, he began to withdraw from the world around him. His capacity to speak, play, experience emotion, and relate to others began to erode. Intensive therapy and special schools could not bring him back, and he slipped into a sort of arrested life. He was diagnosed with autism, a neurological disorder. Then, suddenly, at the age of ten, he began to draw. He did not compose stick figures and crude backgrounds, as children usually do, but parts of faces, eyes, mouths and noses stylishly rendered. In a short time, he was drawing entire portraits, some from life but most from impersonal sources such as television and magazines. He worked rapidly and with uncanny expressiveness, capturing the essence of his subjects in sharp, sweeping lines and smudged shadows. He was a prodigy, a savant of the charcoal crayon.

In clinical parlance, Lerman suffers from a severe from of autism known as Kanner’s autism. As less serious but more prevalent form is known as Asperger’s Syndrome. Kanner’s autism is often associated with prodigious achievements in a single narrow area – rendering, calculating, memorizing, or playing music, for instance. Autistic artists like Lerman live in a largely visual world, which they can render but not interpret symbolically, a world very different from the schizophrenic, whose constant task is interpretation. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, these so-called savants lack the very basis of artistic expression, the capacity to transform what they see – imagination. They are rendering machines, and their work cannot be regarded as purposeful, symbolic communication. At a deeper level, according to Sacks, people with autism lack what imagination itself depends on, the ability to experience their own inner states or intuit them in others. In the words of the author Temple Grandin, who is herself autistic, such people confront other human beings like “an anthropologist on Mars.”

According to this description, the “art” of the people with autism springs full blown and can never develop, since they accumulate no intrinsic creative awareness of past work against which to measure current creations. Their productions are, in Sack’s telling phrase, “raw, pure expressions of the biological,” their lives, “a collection of moments,” vivid, isolated, devoid of any deeper continuity. As Picasso famously remarked, there are not prodigies in art. That is, art is the product of experience and reflection as much as it is the expression of raw rendering talent. Beneath the dizzying variety of styles and abilities of artists with autism – styles as different as the precise multicoloured architectures of Jessica Park (b.1958), the rough-framed, google-eyed self-portraits of Larry Bissonnette (b.1957), the graphic industrial fascinations of Laan Irodjojo (b.1969), and the bold gestures of Lerman – lies an unreflective, unchanging void, a negative nirvana.

If Oliver Sacks is right that artists with autism never develop as acculturated, “real” artists do, then, like gods and monsters, they do not bear the burden of time and cannot tell us something essential about being human. They cannot inspire us with forms of celebration in the face of our progress toward oblivion. But this is misleading. Only modern art has explicitly assumed the tragic burden of isolated self-consciousness and a temporality that hurtles us forward into the unknown. Earlier art and most scared art sees the world as more static, and human consciousness as only one of its elements. The fact that the “vision” and technique of artists with autism do not seem to change or expand in range or depth means that their relationship to the world is not changing. Is that relationship incomplete? Certainly. Is the self behind it incomplete, limited? Perhaps, but the self as expressed in art is not some discrete thing but only the gestures that embody it, the traces it leaves behind. The repertoire of gestures can be rich and varied or narrow and repetitive, but the validity of any gesture cannot be dismissed without a loss to our sense of what it means to be human and the ways that created forms can testify to the diversity of that experience.

From Lyle Rexer’s, How to Look at Outsider Art


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