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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

Thursday, March 09, 2006


There Are No Prodigies in Art

There are no prodigies in art -- Pablo Picasso

There is no art without the artist. For Jonathan Lerman [see gallery statement and video footage in my sidebar], as Lyle Rexer alludes, the self and the compulsion, not the subject or the talent, makes the art. Taking this view, as Picasso did -- "art came through the accumlation of experience, which kneads the unconscious and constantly reshapes it, thus making the prodigy self-less, the victim of whatever subject seizes him, victim of his own aptitude" -- gives Jonathan's savant label a different meaning. If we take the view that art is part of him and his universe, the method by which he has come to express himself, then Jonathan is really, different and at the same time, like the rest of us.

I took a trip to Vestal, New York this morning to meet with Jonathan's parents and to look at more work by him. I brought back with me some of the colour charcoal drawings this time, some completed when he was as young as twelve years of age (he is now eighteen). For Jonathan, charcoal is a native tongue. It is more acute for me after I viewed his oil paintings -- a lot more contrived (apparently he has an art teacher now, so this may be part of the reason). His sculptures are interesting and look like folk art. Yet his drawings sing. For a young man who has great difficulty communicating verbally, his line is lucid, sparse at times, but speak volumes. It is a sophisticated language, this, as verbal language is hard pressed to describe multiple states in a single word.

In some of his later pieces, I am struck by the numerous faces [not pictured here] that surround some of Jonathan's favourite rock musicians, or renderings of rock personae unknown. Caren, his mother, states that she suspects Jonathan is suffering from temporal lobe seizures which may be resulting in some aggressive behaviour, and visual hallucinations. Caren notes that he sees different faces, sticking out tongues, heads floating in air. Jonathan "wants them [the hallucinations] to go away," she says, and looks forward to the day when someone can help him.

It is apparent to me, that these drawings are Jonathan's world -- a definition of himself within it, and affirmation of "I" in the universe, as well as a continuing investigation of it -- as he sees it and as it comes to him. Alan, Jonathan's dad, said to me today that he is interested in doing "something real," meaning, Alan thinks, that he wants to continue to do portraiture.

Jonathan is also interested in religion, and often asks other people "if they are Jewish," says Alan. He is also aware of ethnic origin and draws people of different races and makes up endearing names for his made-up characters.

The Jewish Shaw Posted by Picasa

Untitled, Jonathan Lerman Posted by Picasa

Untitled, Jonathan Lerman Posted by Picasa

I will continue this investigation of art and autism, talent and savantism as I continue to head towards the "really big show" in October. Indeed, the tendency to classify all persons within and without of autism, seems to be the tether we can't do without.


Anonymous Camille said...

I love Jonathan Lehrman's work. There's a beautiful one at the MIND Institute. There's some really nice stuff at the MIND some done by savant artists.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

Thanks for sharing these with us and look forward to seeing many more.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He is one of the greatest artists of this genre, he has an incredible ability to draw. I agree that he is at his best when he draws with charcoal.

Great article.


8:44 AM  

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