When I’ve been looking around a bit on the Internet for Autistic artists to feature outside of The Unpuzzled Project, I keep finding artists who are not portrayed in any light except ones which seem to automatically cast them under the light of “Autism Awareness.” I challenge this because our art is so, so much more than just a reflection of our autism.
When I see these artists, they are often called savants and neurotypical people share these stories with each other as inspiring anecdotes. However, this perpetuates the myth that all Autistic people have savant-like skills AND that the worth of Autistic people in society is dependent upon our ability to meet neurotypicals’ expectations of savantism. There is nothing wrong with savantism in and of itself; but the topic becomes problematic once neurotypical people begin to believe that there is only one type of Autistic person when in reality our community is full of diversity.
Additionally, our art does not exist for neurotypical people to profit from. I do not mean just monetarily; I mean in terms of furthering their so-called “Autism Awareness” causes. Too often we see “Autism Awareness” in the form of puzzle pieces, blue lights on buildings, fundraisers for controversial and pseudoscientific “therapies,” and rainbow puzzle piece ribbons. It’s fine to raise awareness of autism, but that should mean increasing neurotypical people’s actual understanding and knowledge about autism–NOT piling money into the pockets of organizations long disdained and discredited by the Autistic community, NOT spreading around misinformation in the form of erroneous, fear-mongering statistics, and NOT advocating eugenics under the subtext of “helping” Autistic people…please!
Why does our art exist? I cannot speak for the entire Autistic community, but I can say that my art exists because it is a means of self-expression. Does it reflect my autism? Certainly, but that does NOT mean that it is completely defined by my autism. My art is not a curiosity for neurotypical people to look at and marvel at the eccentricity of the Autistic mind. My work is unique both because my neurology is unique and because I am an individual. My work is for myself–as a means of expressing my artistic vision, communicating with the world around me, and processing my thoughts, emotions, ideas, and feelings–and for those who appreciate it as ART, NOT as a symptom.
-Elliott & The Unpuzzled Project