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Construction Paper Feelings
May 7, 2008 9:56 AM   Subscribe

"What the autistic 12-year-old can't express verbally or in social interaction he can show through his carefully cut out geometric shapes assembled into characters in a paper collage."
posted by Orb (30 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow! I really like the collages. He'd be a hit at Threadless.
posted by Dr-Baa at 10:04 AM on May 7, 2008


Whoa, he's constructed his own language from HTTP error codes!
posted by DU at 10:07 AM on May 7, 2008


In the past, Wil would have been called a "savant," a term now considered insensitive.

Out of curiosity, is it in fact considered insensitive to call someone a savant? I can understand why calling someone an idiot savant would be, but I hadn't heard that we're not supposed to use the term savant, before.
posted by shmegegge at 10:23 AM on May 7, 2008


DU: all links work for me.
posted by mkb at 10:23 AM on May 7, 2008


All links work for me as well. Stunning artwork. Thanks for this post, Orb!
posted by peep at 10:25 AM on May 7, 2008


"Construction Paper Feelings" would be the best emo song ever.
posted by Someone has just shot your horse! at 10:25 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, works now. Weird.
posted by DU at 10:30 AM on May 7, 2008


Out of curiosity, is it in fact considered insensitive to call someone a savant? I can understand why calling someone an idiot savant would be, but I hadn't heard that we're not supposed to use the term savant, before.

I was struck by the same thing, shmegegge. It's very weird. I'm going to do a little googling and see if I can find anything on this.
posted by cortex at 10:31 AM on May 7, 2008


Something isn't right here:

To capture a design before Wil could destroy it, Mooring photographed each one and collected all the pieces. Later, she reassembled each collage on a large piece of artboard and hired a photographer to take digital photographs. Now hundreds of collages later, they're selling — sometimes for as much as $1,000 each in the case of three sold at a charity auction to benefit autism.

In other words, the grandmother assembles the collages presumably based on his design. But considering the importance of assembly in collages, one wonders how much is his work and how much is hers.

Furthermore, it appears that she names some of them as well.

While Wil names most of his work simply — "Blue Baby" and "Pals," for instance — Mooring named the pig collage "Exclusion." It was something Wil experienced, she said. There are others called Dilemma and Disappointment.

I don't dispute that art is helping the child and that he can express himself through it better than other media, but I question the motivation of the grandmother, especially considering there appears to be a commercial dimension to it. I wonder how often she "corrects" his art.

They are very interesting though.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:35 AM on May 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


I'd imagine they don't like the word savant purely because it brushes over the negative effects of the illness. It is an illness, right? I'm just not sure what words you are supposed to use.
posted by Acey at 10:38 AM on May 7, 2008


Absolutely great artwork. The artistic style reminds me of these old Russian postcards my host family showed me while I was studying in Moscow.
posted by msaleem at 10:39 AM on May 7, 2008


The sadness surrounding autism spectrum disorders is that the media tends to blames the parents, and/or it is portrayed as some sort of illness that needs to be cured (through vaccines, acting classes, etc). Autists tend to benefit society since they tend to have extraordinary abilities beyond the average human. Rather than trying to fix it, people should spend their time trying to fix other disorders, such as mental retardation.
posted by johannahdeschanel at 10:41 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Suddenly, another million people on the internet got a shiny new set of excuses.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:51 AM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


Autists tend to benefit society since they tend to have extraordinary abilities beyond the average human.

Unfortunately, this is a myth. Most autists have developmentally delayed social and verbal skills, and some have an even broader range of developmental problems, that make the skills that aren't delayed or imparied seem advanced by contrast. Not all people suffering from autism are card-counting Rain Men or piano virtuosi.

That they appear to excel at some things is in most cases a result of focusing on that one thing for the majority of their time. If you did nothing but draw or play the piano for ten hours a day to the exclusion of all else, after a few years you'd be pretty good at it too.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:56 AM on May 7, 2008 [7 favorites]


There is something telling about how most of the faces appearing in the collages have only one eye. Solid post.
posted by taliaferro at 11:15 AM on May 7, 2008


The "savant" thing is an odd case of shifting definitions.

Originally, and still in most dictionaries, a "savant" was just a brilliant person; Mozart and Einstein and Picasso were savants. An "idiot savant" was your Rain Man type.

Next, some people claiming to speak for the "idiot savants" decided to try to take over the term "savant" altogether, because "idiot" has of course long since been a mere insult rather than a piece of early psychological jargon.

The result of this was that in a lot of popular discourse today, any time you call someone a "savant", a significant portion of your audience will think you are implying that they have some serious deficits to go along with their gifts.

But now, oh no, that makes the very word "savant" an insult! Whatever shall we do?!

The euphemism treadmill (in which euphemisms for offensive words become offensive themselves, while "dysphemisms" march the other way) is a fact of life, but this is the most ridiculous example I've seen of it at work.
posted by dansdata at 11:17 AM on May 7, 2008


there is no real association between being a "savant" and being autistic - my 12 year old autistic daughter often expresses herself through drawing that are remarkably vibrant and disjointed looking - aside from anger or fear, it's really hard at times to say what kind of emotion she's expressing with these - in fact, i believe that whatever they might symbolize has a meaning for her that the rest of us aren't going to be able to understand

it seems to me that if this artist didn't have some help in recreating his work that at the least, his work is being put in a context that he himself might not recognize as something he intended
posted by pyramid termite at 11:24 AM on May 7, 2008


I just do not think there is anything insulting about lacking social skills and being compensated for it by having developed a special gift. There is nothing wrong with being unable to expressedly suffer or act emotional. Yay, robots.
posted by johannahdeschanel at 11:27 AM on May 7, 2008


I found this paper, which covers some ground on history of terminology and current classification of autistic-and-otherwise savants, including a partitioning into "talented" (i.e. impressive in light of their handicap) vs. "prodigious" (i.e. impressive even for a baseline-typical person) savants. (See the section subheaded "The Savant".)

Interesting, from that, is this assertion:

Savants, lacking this ability for conceptualization, are thrown back onto the lower levels of neural information-the raw information from which the rest of us abstract our conceptual schemes. Thus, savant artists draw with naturalistic detail, even when still at preschool age...

Which makes the notion of conceptually abstract collages pretty interesting indeed, in Kerner's case, but I can also understand why it would raise some eyebrows, and my gut instinct is to share some of Pastabagel's skepticism about how much of Kerner's grandmother's hand is in some of this.
posted by cortex at 11:39 AM on May 7, 2008


Wow! This explains a lot about South Park.
posted by gnosys at 12:55 PM on May 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


A group of friends & I were once accosted by a man on the street who, through a strange method of interaction with us (overloud talking, lots of inappropriate gestures, etc.), indicated that he could tell us the day of week we were born on if we told him our birthdate.

A few of us did that, and he got about 1/3 of them right.

We decided he was not an idiot savant, but just an idiot.
posted by bovious at 1:19 PM on May 7, 2008


I don't dispute that art is helping the child and that he can express himself through it better than other media, but I question the motivation of the grandmother, especially considering there appears to be a commercial dimension to it. I wonder how often she "corrects" his art.

That was precisely what was bugging me. Shouldn't he have the choice whether or not his artwork (if indeed that's how he intends it) is sold, and how? And shouldn't he be the one deciding the final version, not his grandmother?

Reminds me of that 4 (or 8 or whatever) year old painter girl who was all over the news, then turned out Dad was 'helping'. or whatever it was, I can't remember the details but that's the gist.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:05 PM on May 7, 2008


dnab, I think you're talking about wee Marla Olmstead.
posted by cortex at 2:42 PM on May 7, 2008


I just do not think there is anything insulting about lacking social skills and being compensated for it by having developed a special gift. There is nothing wrong with being unable to expressedly suffer or act emotional.

ASD can be much more profound an illness than lacking social skills or being unable to express emotions. In some individuals autism can mean the inability to function as an independent adult.
posted by cjets at 5:46 PM on May 7, 2008


In other words, the grandmother assembles the collages presumably based on his design. But considering the importance of assembly in collages, one wonders how much is his work and how much is hers.

See also the controversy over "facilitated communication".
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:08 PM on May 7, 2008


Most (or rather all) of the alternative autism treatments are outright quackery, such as chelation, anti-fungal medicines, and hypobaric chambers.

Educational interventions seem to be the only thing that doesn't seem to be excessively exploitative, but they're hard to come by.

I've come to believe that non-verbal autistics are not non-communicitive, they just don't speak the same language as non-autistic people. You wouldn't give an IQ test to a blind person that wasn't in braille, would you? Of course not. This is why many autistic people are using the Internet to express themselves in ways that they can't in real life. What's needed are people who think about this situation in a different manner, rather than just this destructive cure rhetoric.

All functioning levels refer to is how well you can mask your autism, anyway. Besides, even people who supposedly have low IQs can usually do something, like bag groceries, it's just that people have this unrealistic expectation that everyone should be in the Ivy Leagues or an Olympic swimmer or something.
posted by johannahdeschanel at 11:33 AM on May 8, 2008


shmegegge: "Out of curiosity, is it in fact considered insensitive to call someone a savant? I can understand why calling someone an idiot savant would be, but I hadn't heard that we're not supposed to use the term savant, before."

I know a mother of two autistic children. She told me that one of them was starting to "display savant behavior" when she realized that he could do the calculation of what day of the week any given date was.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:19 PM on May 8, 2008


Well, one thing is sure, if I was a socially inept autistic, I'd prefer to be trained to be a crazy piano virtuoso, rather than be fixed to preform menial tasks and not offend everyone. Sure, I might be crushed by not succeeding or something, but it's worth trying. So the best "treatment" is to ask "how can this person's illness most benefit society?"

Otoh mental retardation has only one treatment : early detection and abortion.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:54 AM on May 11, 2008


Otoh mental retardation has only one treatment :

mental retardation is not autism

early detection and abortion.

well, i guess we're too late with you
posted by pyramid termite at 3:10 PM on May 11, 2008


Nah, it's not too late. jeffburdges's problem is ignorance, which -- with a lot of hard work, and a strong support system -- can be cured. He may even go on to live a normal life and be a productive member of society.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:00 AM on May 12, 2008


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