Monday, September 15, 2008

On Drawing

I've always liked to draw, and always been fairly good at it. For a while I wondered if I might be a drawing savant, but decided my drawing skill had changed and developed too much for that. For me to be a savant, I would have to have started drawing with much more detail and grasp of perspective than I did.

Even if I wasn't a savant, I still wonder if my autism hasn't played a role in shaping my drawing ability and making me like to draw. I don't draw the same kinds of things most autistic artists do --- I think of autistic artists as all choosing to draw the sort of sprawling, imposing cityscapes that Stephen Wiltshire draws, while I draw mostly human figures*, with occasional natural landscapes. I do tend to draw insanely detailed line drawings, with very dark and heavy lines, though. Also, I've always drawn pictures piecewise --- do small parts one by one, in great detail, and see if they fit together --- which sometimes gives me trouble with proportions. But I have even more trouble when I try to sketch out a general plan for a picture; when I do that, things quickly get too large. It seems the only way I can stay on the paper is to keep the part I'm working on very small. This difficulty maintaining scale looks a bit like the fragmentation observed by Fein, Lucci and Waterhouse in their 1990 study comparing 34 autistic children to 32 normal children in their ability to reproduce drawings of geometric figures they were given and their ability to draw a child freehand. (If you can access the full article, it includes some sample drawings.) I also can draw about equally well from memory, from direct observation and from photographs, although my ability to draw something from memory depends on my understanding of what I see. I don't have a perfect photographic memory, so conceptual understanding of the structure of whatever I'm trying to draw is needed to fill the gaps in my memory of it. That can go the other way, too; as I draw something, I usually come to understand it better.

That's probably the biggest difference between my drawing and a savant's drawing: for me, drawing is a long, intense, highly intellectual process, while they just seem to bang them out automatically.

*I was interested to see this article, which apparently unearths an autistic drawing savant who prefers to draw human figures, and also who doesn't draw from memory. She is also female, which led me to wonder if this might be another sex difference within autism --- just as autistic girls tend to be more interested in pretending and fiction writing and art than autistic boys, maybe female autistic artists tend to choose different subject matter for their pictures. Most of the famous drawing savants are boys and men, after all...

7 comments:

Ettina said...

"That's probably the biggest difference between my drawing and a savant's drawing: for me, drawing is a long, intense, highly intellectual process, while they just seem to bang them out automatically."

What makes you say that?
There's a stereotype that anything a severely disabled person does can't be well-thought out, but that's not true.
Stephen Wiltshire, for one, didn't seem automatic when I saw a video of him drawing. And, although the news people made the process look faster by their editing, they noted that it took him several hours to draw his picture (I think it was Piccadilly).

Ettina said...

Regarding possible gender differences among drawing savants, that parallels something I've read about 'pathological demand avoidance', a subtype of autism that has an equal sex ratio instead of more boys than girls. One major feature of PDA is obsessive role-playing - in one study, the only PDA kids who showed the more usual autistic lack of pretend were very young. And obsessive interests of PDA kids are more often focused around certain people or categories of people.

Lindsay said...

Hi, Ettina,

"Automatically" might be the wrong word. It just seems that with other savant skills, like the mathematical ones, extreme speed and accuracy are the things that set them apart from just regular talent. It was not my intention to imply that drawing savants aren't thinking when they draw; just that I had thought they did it quickly. But now, reading more about it, I see there are a lot of different ways to be a drawing savant. That girl in the case study I linked to didn't do any of her drawings from memory, which I had previously thought was part of what made you a savant or not. So it could be that speed is not required either.

That's interesting about PDA --- I'd never heard that before. Only half of that fits me; I did a lot of pretending, but my interests were definitely not people-oriented (mythology, dinosaurs, social insects). I wonder what "pathological demand avoidance" means? Whose demands are they avoiding?

Ettina said...

Teachers, parents, etc.

thinkingdifference said...

Just read about this and thought of you: http://www.autismthemusical.com/

AnneC said...

First of all, hi. I saw your blog linked from shiva's, and clicked over and have found your writing quite interesting so far.

Secondly, you said:

Also, I've always drawn pictures piecewise --- do small parts one by one, in great detail, and see if they fit together --- which sometimes gives me trouble with proportions.

...and I very much relate to this. Am also autistic, and have enjoyed drawing since I was very small. When drawing or painting I pretty much always focus on small areas and gradually build up the total image that way. this drawing of an oscilloscope shows some of the detail-ness of how I draw, and also some weirdness with the proportions.

Lindsay said...

Hi, Anne!

Glad you are enjoying the blog. And yes, the style in which you drew that oscilloscope is very similar to the way I draw.

My dad has an oscilloscope, hmm ...

*considers drawing it*

I mostly draw stuff that's not as rectilinear: people, animals, landscapes, still lifes of flowers, draped material or whatever. Part of this is just that that's the kind of stuff I tend to find visually appealing, although I think another thing that factors into it is my difficulty with straight lines. My motor control sucks, and it takes a lot of tries before I can draw a line that even looks vaguely straight. Rulers help sometimes, but I fiddle with my drawings so much I'd rather draw stuff I can freehand.