When I think about art and autism, all kinds of questions come to mu mind. I wonder how art might alter the way people who have autism see and experience the world, or how autism might alter the way they make art. I wonder how taking part in art or craft might help people open up or express themselves if they usually struggle with this. I wonder how creativity might make people feel more spontaneous and flexible.
And knowing that many people who have autism need order in their lives, I wonder how this might conflict with art and craft, which can be messy. Is the actual messiness liberating, or might it limit people with autism wanting to be creative? Are there particular art media or styles which might be more helpful than others?
So many questions: and there are no easy or obvious answers. Experiences will differ enormously.
I recently came across the work of abstract artist Mahlia Amatina (www.mahliaamatina.com) whose painting Transitions 1 (Acrylic) you see here. Mahlia’s work strikes me as vivid, experimental, open and thoughtful. Since she was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism) five years ago, she has woven her experiences into her art. Her latest exhibition, Life On A Spectrum, focuses on living with autism. It has moved online because of Covid-19, and is absorbing and powerful to explore. Around The World In 80 Washing Lines was the intriguing title of her previous, 2018 exhibition which shared “sensory-immersive” artwork.
Mahlia works in a range of different media, from oil sticks and acrylic paint to ink, and uses different surfaces, from paper to canvas. And her art is not limited to 2D either. She has built on her abstract style to use other art forms like performance art and videography, which feature in Life On A Spectrum.
As autism may alter the way people see, hear and experience life, all the senses come into play: so a creative response to autism can have a powerful impact if it is multi-sensory as well.
Mahlia Amatina’s work seems to absorb her own experience in order to reach out to others and build community. In her own words about her Life On A Spectrum exhibition, she aims to “capture the imagination of people from all backgrounds to learn about and celebrate neurodiversity”. So I feel that Mahlia’s work demonstrates how art can become a language, how it can create awareness, empathy and solidarity, how it can unite and how it can create insights into how we experience the world we all share.
One important way to do that is to enable people to get involved themselves, to contribute and to respond. The Life On A Spectrum exhibition was developed to be highly interactive, with viewers’ reactions to art and to autism going on to form part of the exhibition itself.
In a way, all art allows us to experience the world through someone else’s eyes, ears, hands or mind. When that someone has autism, maybe this adds another layer to the experience.
I will go on thinking over my questions, and thinking of new ones (about autism and creativity, but also about how all different experiences of life might shape or inspire art). You might have answers or experiences you could share on Medley’s new Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002 Exploring and asking questions could help us understand art’s diverse impacts on each and every one of us.