The Value of Art
Painting by an individual who attends Art Opps, what does it communicate to you?
This week at Art Opportunities, a service which focuses on arts and craft based activities, we were in conversation with individuals on the autism spectrum to ask 'what is art?' The question was asked as part of a process of exploring individual perspectives on the value of art and here, Jill shares with us some of the answers the team received.
Art is a word so full of possibilities, and such an open question challenged many of the individuals asked, with no real consensus or definitive response. For some individuals art was defined by the specific activity or medium employed, for others they considered art in terms of the subject explored with themes as diverse as spaceships, religion and Strictly Come Dancing cited, and some considered art as a term of expression encompassing music, movement and theatre. The theatrical references reminded me of a person I worked with a couple of years ago who told me that “art is like building scenery, and we all live in the scenery”. An analogy that’s always stuck with me and interested me.
Glass work by individuals from Art Opps
The fundamentally subjective nature of ‘what is art’ and what makes it important to people is why it is so difficult to define. An art teacher working with young people on the autism spectrum told me recently that she openly struggles to get meaningful outcomes for her pupils because of some of the barriers that processing and perceptual differences place on creativity and the organisation and communication of ideas seemingly required to be creative with meaningful intent. I suppose that depends on what you term a successful outcome. Whatever your assessment of artistic merit, from the visual accuracy of a Stephen Wiltshire, to originality of concept, shared meaning, or skill of execution, art in it’s most basic form is a visual language.
The staff in Art Opportunities will tell you that often far more insight is gained from observation of the making of the piece or the less socially direct conversations that can open up, than the finished outcome itself. One person’s red is another person’s green in the art world (and quite possibly in the world of autism too), and the subjective nature of art is what makes it such an accepting medium for the expression of ideas. One that without formula, without right or wrong answers or approaches, embraces all viewpoints and outcomes. It permits a sense of authorship and self-ownership, and can give individuals a platform to determine meaning without the need to conform. You could argue that it is precisely the idiosyncrasies of visual language and difficulties following the neuro-typical crowd that pre-dispose an individual on the autism spectrum to approach art with a freshness of perspective so often sought after.
But whatever your definition of art, however you find meaning in it or evaluate it’s value for persons with autism, you can’t argue with one of the gentleman in Art Opportunities who simply and eloquently got to the heart of the question with the response “art makes me happy”. Me too.