"He's autistic?" "No, he's artistic"
Rain Man is a 1988 American film that tells the story of Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant. Raymond is a man of many talents, but his main talent is that he is something of a mental calculator. He has other interests and 'isms' in the film, too - he always watches The People's Court, he loves The Beatles and has an amazing memory. The film centres around the strong bond he eventually makes with his brother Charlie too, but the main focus of the film is Raymond's unusual talents.
The film won four Oscars and is almost a cult-classic. It improved public-awareness of autism at a time when it was still a relatively unspoken topic and shone a light on the skills that those with autism might have. It did however, almost inaugurate the idea that people with autism typically have savant skills, or 'extra special talents' - which really is a misinterpretation of what it is to be autistic.
We have experienced this with Jake many times over the years. Questions along the lines of "Is he really amazing at maths? Can he recite the bible? Can he split the atom?" have been thrown around and it's almost tempting to reply, "no, can YOU?" It is hard to explain the feeling of sadness when you to have to respond with "No...but he really likes to do puzzles..."
Only last month, a man working in a restaurant spotted Jake and came up to us to ask about him and ask if he has "any special talents?" This is the first time this has been asked since we started Artism and so we proudly responded, "yes, he's an artist."
It got me thinking, particularly because (like the majority of those with autism) Jake is not a savant. He has found something that he enjoys doing and with practice, has nurtured it into a talent. He definitely has his own style that comes across in all his paintings. But that style is something that is still developing and growing as he learns and practises painting.
In Jake's Mona Lisa and self portrait interpretations below, you can see the development of his technique over the past 3 years:
Mona Lisa by Jake Chodosh
Self portrait by Jake Chodosh
We like to think that Jake's art goes to show that those with autism are capable of cultivating a gift, talent or interest in the same way as anybody else. He is not a savant and nor should he be. The fact that it has taken time and effort to get to this point is no less impressive.