Fermynwoods Friday 5 – Art, Brain and Behaviour

Art, Brain and Behaviour (2017) was one of our most popular Free Exchange on Tour events. Our Education Coordinator Emma Davies recounts her memories of the discussion and how she personally identified with a large part of it.

Having suggested Art, Brain and Behaviour as a topic for The Free Exchange, I travelled to the venue full of anticipation. It is a subject that I have had a growing interest in, for personal and professional reasons and the consideration that we are probably all on a spectrum for something (be it sexuality, neuro-diversity or other). It is now widely understood that there is a far higher percentage of the population who are on the autistic spectrum than originally thought.

I was/still am conscious that I didn’t/don’t want to jump on a bandwagon and self -proclaim a diagnosis as if it is a new fashion accessory, but as the evening progressed, it seemed to act as a mass therapy session, and helped us all to dissect, evaluate and reflect on our own and other’s isms and struggles that may or may not be related to a neuro-diverse issue.

The two speakers were Susan Kruse and David A. Walton. Susan is an autistic artist who focuses on drawing, video and sculpture. David is a Senior Counselling Psychologist who specialises in the assessment and treatment of ADHD, Tourette’s and Asperger’s in adults.

Susan beautifully described how her autistic traits dictate how she sees the world and ultimately how this transcribes through to her practice. As an audience we were transported into Susan’s mind, walking with her as she became transfixed by the minutiae she sees every day, such as raindrops or the patterns and marks created in the urban landscape, becoming addicted to the infinite variations and the repetitious desire to be repeatedly drawing them.

Susan expressed that she was questioning her decision in obtaining a diagnosis. It has helped her personal life; in fact it was her daughter that had pointed it out to her as she herself had recently started to work with people with autism. But conversely, Susan was conscious of this LABEL – in her mind she was an artist first and foremost, but she was now described as an Autistic Artist and this was something that she wasn’t altogether comfortable with. Having a label can help you to help others to understand you, but you then become defined by this label and you are seen as the label first and everything else second.
Susan also described how, as someone with autism, she struggles with stress and that sometimes she has meltdowns if it all becomes a bit too much. Thus, she plans her life carefully to avoid such stresses occurring: meticulously planning travel arrangements, or writing out her introduction to this Free Exchange so that she was able to precisely communicate her ‘self’.

Around the room heads were nodding – I was certainly recognising behaviours that were being described – in myself, family members and friends. Art, brain and behaviour. Even now as I type, I am in new surroundings, away from the solitude of my own office, there are lots of conversations happening, near and distant, phones are ringing, people walking up and down the stairs and it is all VERY distracting and disorientating and I am struggling to focus.

Part of the evening became a battle of opinion and wits as the two specialists debated how an adult with autism feels or experiences. The diagnoser versus the diagnosed.

I was emotionally enraptured throughout this entire evening, neurons firing in all directions, my hand frantically scribbling all of the words spoken; it was as if a murky window had suddenly been opened that I had been peering through my entire life.

Thank you David and Susan for opening it.

Emma Davies

Look out for more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects.