There are “black demons among the grey, all like a mist between me and the green woods.” John Ruskin
I am a creative with a notable history of success in the fine art of drawing and mixed media. I also have a high spectrum form of Autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. And, for better or worse, I am also diagnosed with Tourette’s, Major Depression, and Severe Anxiety, which, together as a suite of disorders, is not uncommon for deep creatives and autistic persons like myself.
My recent diagnoses are an important discovery that sewed together some missing pieces of my life’s fabric. For most of my life, I simply accepted myself as a peculiar person, with a very limited ability to adapt to social situations even though I always wished to be a person with elan. Instead, I found myself being more comfortable with isolation. Yet, I also have an extreme imagination and an abstract way of thinking, yet struggle with constrained verbal skills, having an uncanny ability to focus obsessively on a project, am a workaholic, yet content with my own company, especially when it came to my art. I could stay up all night on a task, and still do, while the rest of the neighborhood around me slept.
Within the last year, and with the proper medications, and the right perspective and self-management tools, I have produced over 100 pieces of quality art that appear to have transcended earlier artworks in my career. Before my diagnoses, this great talent had become remote to me, “put under a stone” for a couple of decades mainly due to these medical interruptions that somehow left me incapable of the creativity (energy) that once thrived. In referencing the late Neil Peart, my prolonged “season of limbo” had now switched back to the “luxury” of the “creative urge.”
“The artist must paint…if he is to be at peace with himself.” Abraham Maslow
In my opinion, it is through our own strengths, traits, and inner perceptions, transferred to less-than “normal” outward expressions that make us unique, talented, and ready to explore unusual ways to fit into the world through creativity. What happens when we create (art) is a biproduct of the human mind regathering expressions of visual life. As a group with Asperger’s, we have a lot to offer society considering our value as often highly intelligent, broad-visioned human beings, who can also embrace both detailed acuity and abstract thought. Wylie (2014) wrote that people with Asperger’s have a “fascinating cognitive style.” Though I am not very religious, I sometimes feel that my own struggle is akin to a monument, or gift that was given to me by God that is unique to me somehow. It is so special that it brings certain challenges and struggles that God has bequeathed only to me for whatever purpose He has in mind. In thinking of my Asperger’s in this way, I feel better about my ordeal, and how special I am to have to deal with it, so I now embrace it. In addition, it was very important to have those diagnoses so that I could rethink my mind. Not knowing why I was doing what I was doing and feeling the way I did was painful. The ensuing journey (drug/cognitive therapies, clinical trials, despair, aimlessness, etc.) was not easy either, but it at least led to where I am now.
“Be anyone you want to be. A little spark of light inside your mind.” Marillion
Even with the meds, I will never be “normal” whatever that means. I accept being on a charted line below what many consider normal. I am like a Picasso Cubist painting. Kind of jumbled up with the pieces askew. The pieces are there, and it is a beautiful artwork, but not quite normal. In contrast, I am in no way like a Vermeer painting with its easily recognizable human shape and surrounding light. That is well above the line of normal and kind of over the top for me. Now, I am happy with just being like a Cubist painting because I can manage it. While many studies exist regarding how individuals can deal with high spectrum autism (the spectrum), I could find only a few that deal with creativity and creating fine art as a related and specific therapeutic topic for people like me. So, I decided to self-analyze using my own awareness and basic common sense and came up with a list of ideas that follow, below. I must admit that it was a regime of medications versus a single med that appear to have given me the clarity and hope to help me once again get to a point of energy and focus. Maybe in your case, you do not need the medication part. Maybe you just need the art. Art gives me a way to express myself in ways where I (we) might otherwise be trapped inwardly in isolation. The key is getting enough creative strength to bring forth the art. In my opinion, anyone can create art. Drawing a line on a blank surface can be considered art if the drawer intends it to be, whether purposefully or accidentally.
Alas, and whatever you choose, I must say that there are no universal remedies or cures here, but there is also no uneasy jargon, no platitudes, and no boring scientific data. Instead, there is some intelligent maneuvering, simplistic adventures, and creative best practices that may help better manage our challenges and perhaps steer ourselves away from the hopelessness and [paralyz-ation] that may confine and torment us, and block creative flow that keeps our Asperger’s in control of us. As artists, and given our own often idiosyncratic artistic-not autistic-creative mind, we can adapt to our conditions sideways if not straightforward, and make them less gripping in the meantime. We can manage certain issues beyond medicinal and behavioral therapies that, while they do their part, often have only limited efficacy. My case is unique to me, yet I feel others can tailor what has worked for me into their own programs when other “solutions” fail to bring meaningful resolution or comfort.
Notable Artists on the Spectrum
Part of hoping is to understand how others have coped and risen above the odds. Now, success in an art-related endeavor is subjective, and it is in its therapeutic approach that may best serve those with Asperger’s. However, in addition to myself, history does reveal that some very well-known visual artists in the past have either been diagnosed with or presumed to have Asperger’s. Some experts have surmised that such greats such as Van Gogh and Michelangelo had the disorder due to records of their behaviors, which included deep focus, commitment to tasks, and peculiar or odd social interactions. Andy Warhol is said to have been on the spectrum. Supposedly he had obsessive qualities, had no close friends, had major social relationship issues, spoke in irregular patterns,and was a workaholic. He was also an artistic mastermind.
What follows is a simple dialogue with strategies that have given me at least some modicum of clear purpose and relief from the doldrums of depression and angst surrounding the spectrum suite, as I like to call it. We can be part of this dialogue together. You may participate or not. These are easy, simple, creative steps or practices that may clear your mind, open up your creativity, unblock your artistic linkages, and perhaps even restore some inspirational space. They are my good ideas so they have personally helped me within my peculiar context. Maybe you can craft your own program within your own context.
I am sure some of you know who Julia Cameron is. She wrote several excellent books on uncovering the artist within ourselves. Her books are very inspirational and serve as guides for stirring our inner artistic sensibilities. My blog attempts to do kind of the same thing only focused more specifically on people with Asperger’s. I will never match the skill that Cameron merits, but I hope to provide at least one or some tidbits of useful information that help you use your creative self better.
As a creative, and as I referenced earlier, and with more clarity now, I better understand that my own personality includes keen senses of composition and balance, perfection, and the bigger picture. To make these work for me, I also now know that I need:
+chances for escape;
+my own space;
+blocks of time;
+music and dancing to my own goofiness;
Yet, attempting to harness these traits can be elusive, though they can also steer us away from hopelessness and deep depression. So, let us take a journey through these ideas that can help us navigate our present and future paths. I have added quotes and music lyrics from a variety of sources and I suggest that you follow up on them to read or listen to them in their respective contexts. If the alternatives provided herein do nothing for you, then please keep fighting, keep striving, keep hoping.
We may want to escape! So, Let’s talk about escape
“Let me out of here! I just wanna get out of here!” Alice Cooper
The effects from my Asperger’s are highlighted by my being very uncomfortable around people as I tend to be a loner, yet desire friendship and charisma and the benefits of being liked by others. For me, these are strange juxtapositions to be sure. I can only be around strangers and groups for a few minutes at a time. I find ambiguous comfort in “ghosting” people in these situations after only a few minutes. Therefore, to stir up creativity, I have found it necessary to remove myself from any public gatherings and find an isolated space. In other words, I can take only about five minutes of hob-nobbing, working a room, or creating conversation. So, I remove myself from that context. I find that if I do not remove myself, I becomes lost, bobbing up and down in the water, with no clear shore to cling to. If I do not do this, then I will begin to feel threatened from interaction while also feeling bad about myself.
It is no wonder then, that the rain has a positive effect on me since it provides a sort of shelter from ambient activities going on. That is, I take comfort in knowing that the outside world is not swirling as much as it would be without the rain. When I remove myself directly from the activity, yet still place myself near it, or accept the rain as a sort of shield, I find my creative energy energies begin to also swirl, even if only for few minutes. The previous barrage of activity disappears and my creative mind is more comfortable without the stress of having to perform. With the activities now in the background, I can use the time to take in creativity from the non-human physical world that is around me. The luxury is that I can go back and spend another five minutes interacting and then remove myself again. There is no rule that I have to insert myself into a group setting for any prolonged period of time. It is a hidden strategy for me when those times confront us. It makes me feel less bad about myself, which helps my creative side, overall. In fact, this strategy of removing yourself after a few minutes at a time, soothes the desire to be part of the mix, while allowing recovery and creative time. So, remove yourself when the time is appropriate and preserve and nurture your positive creative force through self-preservation during such times of high stress.
NEXT…Let’s Talk About Protected Space
Our own protected spaces are unique to each of us as they are affected by chances for escape to a protected space. How and where we escape to is important, yet unique to every individual.
In a sort of protected space, I find that walking the beach here in Manatee County allows me to look for shark teeth along the shoreline. Today I found ten teeth. What findings! Searching for shark teeth gives me the opportunity to focus on the search, while providing a physical space that is bearable and leaves me room in my frenetic brain to think. I can think of my Asperger’s and its blessings, and enhance my creative mind as the inspiration from the sea views synergize together.