Art in Alternative Minds
We will only ever know what it’s like to be us. My thoughts are restricted by the things I have and haven’t experienced, as are yours. It’s human nature however, to be curious. How far can the mind’s function be warped and stretched beyond ‘normal?’ Art in Alternative Minds compiles and analyzes the most unique minds devoted to art, studying both voluntary and involuntary altered states of consciousness.
It’s common knowledge that the typical working memory can handle five to nine items at once; for instance, a phone number, apartment number, or price tag. Very few stray from the average, and those who do often manifest the skill in somewhat useless abilities like memorizing card decks or barcodes. Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic artist, instead uses this gift to create massive city skyline illustrations, like to the left, all from memory.
Life was a struggle for Wiltshire at an early age. He was diagnosed with autism when he was three and lost his father shortly after. He remained mute until the age of seven, when he uttered his first word- “paper.” If that didn’t foreshadow his future artistic success, I don’t know what does. Since then, his passion for art and creative processes only widened. Starting from sketching imaginary cityscapes, he quickly grew fame from his remarkable talent at such an early age. At eight years old he was commissioned to draw the Salisbury Cathedral for the current Prime Minister. Once he graduated, his career as a landscape artist took off- literally. He became known for his one-shot helicopter rides that panned a city, which were recreated in a matter of days with a pen and ink. His most recent panoramic of Singapore was commissioned by the President of Singapore and was hung in celebration of the country’s 50th birthday in 2015.
Where did this artistic prowess come from, and how does his unique characteristics affect it? Interestingly, his development correlates with a new method of therapy for autistic children: art conditioning. The method encourages the kids to express themselves in an alternative way to verbally, a feat that many autistic youth struggle with. One participant in the experimental therapy vouched for its effectiveness, saying that for him speaking was one big stutter. Art gave him a way to communicate outside of screaming and struggling to string together cohesive sentences. Art as a way of getting one’s ideas across can be seen in Wiltshire’s childhood. As a traumatized, mute, child he probably felt frustrated from being cut off from the world. But through art he found his voice and will never have to worry about being heard again.
Marie Cheng |’20