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Art and Autism

Updated on November 21, 2013

Benefits of Art For the Communication Impaired by Kimberly Gerry-Tucker

As a little girl I didn't understand selective mutism but I know it wasn't shyness. You get a lump in your throat and it's so big you can't blast through it with words. I knew something was muting me. Stealing oral communication. Thoughts, ideas and feelings went unexpressed. In that sense, I understood selective mutism on a very personal level even though I had no name for it.

I didn't understand Aspergers or Sensory Sensitivity although it was as integral a part of me as my own skeleton.

I journaled. In fact I filled over 17 diaries which later made it into my book Under The Banana Moon. The unspoken words, having been put to paper I then destroyed the diaries.

Art has always been a natural way to communicate and it is the same for writing. Squidoo in particular is a blogging forum that pushes writers to be their best.

Arts and Autism are my life and this a good place to write that which I know so much about.

Mural Work
Mural Work

Connecting To The World Through The Expression of ART

by Kimberly Gerry-Tucker, Autist, Artist, Writer

ART for me means, woodcarving, mural work, acrylic paintings, crafts, writing, and mosaics.

Years ago, while going through a particularly stressful time, I bought chipped colorful plates from a flea market table. They were imperfect and colorful. I smashed them to bits and put the different pieces into groups. If one had a yellow fleck, into the 'yellow' container it went. If a shard had greens in it, into the 'green bits' container it went, and so on...

I bought some grout and built mosaics on everything from remote control holders to plant pots. (And one day in the far off future, on an actual URN. I learned from this that each broken piece had a proper place in the scheme of things, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and could be tolerable;

even lovely as part of a unified whole.

I used to feel like a piece broken off a person and not a whole person at all. I saw ALL details and accepted the world as fragmented. Mica winking within a stone wall; dust motes swirling in holy light beams at church. These were my whole happy world.

But mosaics is just the beginning, for a person who struggles with communicating in the world effectively, expression through writing and art becomes necessary,



an extension of identity,

a saving grace,

a therapeutic outlet,

a pleasure,

a way to connect meaningfully with the world.

Amazon books About Autistic Experience - on Art, Autism and Aspergers, Artists Among Us

Everyone has a story.

Every person is extraordinary.

For over twenty years I have lived in this house and probably noticed things that many people will overlook.

For example, when is the last time you stidied details? In most every room, there is a corner where two walls meet the ceiling. In the center is the convergence point. that area of a room has always fascinated me because it is so integral to the design of a house that twenty years CAN pass and many people will not REALLY see it even though it has always been there. I study this convergence point when I walk into rooms.

I think it is because I details are my thing, but also because I recognize these nooks of my home as the oft overlooked niches in ME, integral and important, out in plain view but also overlooked.

The arts of writing and painting are expressions that come naturally to many of us on the spectrum. When many things go unexpressed, there is a relief, a joy, a pride in sharing what's bottled up. Many artists on the spectrum are writers too, myself included. Here are some don't miss books on these topics.

I painted in earnest in my late twenties and began taking orders and selling so much I could barely keep up. It was hard letting go of my painted babies but I continue to do so to this day. I've been lucky enough to obtain work painting murals, and to have opportunities to have my work on the cover of a book, as well as inside a few, and I regularly show my paintings in galleries.

When art and autism go together, spirits soar all around!

Under the Banana Moon: A True Story of Living, Loving, Loss and Asperger's
Under the Banana Moon: A True Story of Living, Loving, Loss and Asperger's

My paintings are on the cover of this book. This is my memoir. If you check it out I hope you will let me know personally what you think of it. It is a lifetime of art, writing, love, loss and aspergers.

Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic
Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic

Donna, she wrote the forward for my book Under The banana Moon. She's a survivor, a true fighter. Read this first book in her series. This book changed the course of my life and I gained friends in the process. Donna is a talented sculptor and artist.

Systems 101 Steve Wiltshire
Systems 101 Steve Wiltshire

I don't believe Steve is a writer but his art speaks volumes. A brilliant autistic savant, Steve is a must-see artist. You won't be able to put this book down.

The Hidden World of Autism: Writing and Art by Children with High-functioning Autism
The Hidden World of Autism: Writing and Art by Children with High-functioning Autism

A must read for my peers on the spectrums, parents with autistic children in their lives and the general public interested and art and how it reflects the human condition. The art is unforgettable.

Making Sense of Art: Sensory-Based Art Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders
Making Sense of Art: Sensory-Based Art Activities for Children with Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Parents, autistics, speech pathologists and those curious about how to help autistics through art will love this informative and fun book.

First ever Autobiographical Comic Drawn and Written By an Autistic
First ever Autobiographical Comic Drawn and Written By an Autistic

Comparing Contemporary Autistic Artist Colin Warneford to Van Gogh

Was Van Gogh Autistic?

Vincent And Colin

My friend Colin Warneford was working on a comic, doing the writing and illustrating and I was supporting him long distance through phone calls and emails and snail letters. It was the 90s. I told him a bit of news about Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh that I knew would interest him. It seems Vincent often complained that the French did not know how to pronounce his surname... which incidentally he pronounced with an f sound- van gawf or van guff. But alas, Colin already knew that. Of course! Snarky Brits!

Colin remarked, Well o' course, I knew that. Its typically the Americans who get the pronunciation wrong, as usual. The Brits know its Van GUFF!

Vincent admired other artists; the ones whose work in The Hague embodied human dignity and humility. When describing a painting he'd seen of 'poorer' folks, (which he preferred to the paintings of those done of the aristocrats of the day, Vincent remarked- ...knowing how to suffer without complaining, that is the only practical thing, it is the great science, the lesson to learn, the solution of the problem of life.

It was this same dialogue Colin used in his letters to me. There was this drawing Colin did called S.A.D. (sad alcoholic dreamer). It was his typical pen and ink and full of emotion. He had to walk across a big stately bridge to his local shops to mimeograph it for me, and then to the post; to mail it to me. I loved his handwritten notes along the sides of the drawing; pointing out details and the two page descriptions. Some drawings came in groups of ten or thirty. He wrote ten page letters or sometimes mimeographed drawings straight from his sketchbook just for me. He carried it everywhere. He was Colin the Artist, blind in one eye you know but sharp and so witty!

S.A.D. was a man who passed out at a diner; his head laying smack down on the table, in his food. Colin drew from life: the S.A.D., the ladies on the barstools, the buskers on the streets, these were what he saw daily, some were acquaintances, and some he called friends. Colin chose subject matter so similar to Van Goghs.

Van Gogh had seen the paintings of the rich, of the proper ladies posed with jewels and high frilled collars with fine furniture adorning the backgrounds...But he wanted to capture what had NOT been done before-the plight of the common person. The people he knew. Were they not worthy as subject matter? Were their wrinkles, calluses, haggard bodies and thoughtful eyes not beautiful too?

Not having access to studio models, Vincent drew from life the beggars, fishermen, peasants, and even his doctor and mailman. He saw the peasant as the embodiment of universal human values. One memorable painting is the family of Potato Eaters- a monument to human drama in a dimly lit kitchen nook. They have eaten nothing but potatoes for a long time. Their skin was white.

I couldn't help but click over to Colin's pub drawings, which were scanned and stored on my computer, for comparison. Colin sketched his doctor too. He sketched the characters he met and conversed with in bars while he drank 'orange' and sometimes something stronger...I read a review, after Colin's work appeared in American Splendour, which stated that he could (with his pen) breathe life into an ordinary ashtray.

I clicked back over to the Van Gogh site with my mouse where Vincent's letters to his brother were reproduced online. In letters to his brother Theo, I was struck how similar to Colin his ideas, subject matter and execution of speech indeed were. Vincent outlined the importance of inner spirit over outward appearance...He painted with an obsession- Vincent said:

Diggers, sowers, plowers, male and female, they are what I must draw continually. I have to observe and draw everything that belongs to country life...I no longer stand helpless before nature as I used to.

Vincent loved his work, stating, ...there is soul and life in that crayon. It knows what I want, it listens with intelligence and obeys...I've walked this earth for thirty yrs. And out of gratitude want to leave some souvenir in the shape of drawings or pictures-not made to please a certain taste in art, but to express a sincere human feeling.

He was a loner, and I suspect did not express human feeling through his mouth, but rather through epic letters and as was his fervent need and desire and ultimate completion of his desired goal- expression of human feeling through paint. I had dabbled too-had sold hundreds of paintings but I didn't choose subject matter the way Colin did.The way Vincent did.

Vincent's way of thinking was based on chains of associations. He believed his creations were based on rational thought. He said- ...sheer work and calculation, with one's mind strained to the utmost, like an actor on the stage in a difficult part, with a thousand things to think of at once in a single half hour...- this is how he described a painting session.

I made the error of e-mailing Colin a letter from Vincent to his brother Theo. I did not state that I had retyped it verbatim from the Van Gogh website. I typed his words into the body of the e-mail to Colin with no descriptive header or title to tell Colin that this was indeed a letter Van Gogh had written to his brother so many years ago.

Check this out, Colin,

I wrote in the subject field,

and at the end of the letter I finally typed in that it was written by Vincent.

Colin wrote back, Kim, I first thought you were sending me a letter I'd written to you meself some time ago. I thought, now when did I write that...? I copied off the letter to show to me mates at the pub. They too were fooled into thinking I'd penned it meself. Twas Vincent speaking, and not me.

Colin comes from the self described armpit of England and like Vincent, preferred to draw what is the equivalent of the modern day reality of life that he sees around him. He's recording, like Vincent did, the people-the ordinary people, who are quite extraordinary in his eyes; he's logging their lives, sketchbook in gunnysack wherever he should go. He spoke as lovingly about his Rotring art pen as Vincent did about his crayon. I thought of my childhood home when I first saw the painting of Van Gogh's room. Of the floorboards on the old porch; the way they ran away distortedly from view.

art and autism - The Unique Talents Of Artists who Are Autistic

People on the spectrum can range from severe, non-verbal, to mild as in those who are diagnosed Aspergers. When unique autist processing develops art, the outcome is always a treat. Art and autism does not always go together but I'm glad when it does. I could peruse art by those on the spectrum and always feel awed and honored.

I know personally the struggles and challenges of coping, speaking, communicating effectively and it is through art that so many of us do just that, but not verbally. rather through our art. It is in this way we develop confidence, help ourselves to cope, reach out in our way, speak through paint or ink or clay, and communicate!

Books on Autism and Art

Debbie Hosseini, a mother of a talented young man on the spectrum has been doing a yearly Art of autism book series. Do check them out. Here are some other colorful and interesting art and autism books that you will be turning to again and again to enjoy these beautiful paintings. That's what a good book is intended for, right?

Some people see the art that autistics make as outsider art. But isn't it just the pure ebb and flow of uncorked enthusiasm? An example of insider art?

I find that it's free of societal expectation, in fact it's freeing to see the subject matter, color choices and life in the artworks that those on the spectrum create.

Here are some examples of art and autism, holding hands.

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    • kimberly gerryt profile imageAUTHOR

      kimberly gerryt 

      6 years ago


      Perhaps if you like my views you can check out my book Under the Banana Moon, available at amazon or read my blogs at Ravenambition over on wordpress. I'd love the feedback! Thanks for your kind words.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      thank you for writing your article. I'm very moved, specially when you say that broken fragments have their own place in the mosaic. Art for me is a saving grace too and the way I connect my life.


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