These were made by Christophe Pillault, an Iranian-French painter. I’ve put them in this particular tumblr for two main reasons.
One, as an autistic man who can’t talk, walk, or use his hands for more functional things, he’s exactly the kind of person who gets considered an empty shell. These paintings prove that wrong.
Two, they show a very sensory way of perceiving the world that is incredibly familiar to me. If your dominant system of understanding things works this way, you’re very likely to be considered a nonperson as well unless you’re either very lucky or able to switch into a more intellect-based way of responding. People have said of me, and doubtless of Pillault, that I’m unable to experience the richness of life. I’ve found that my paintings, more than any words I could write, demonstrate the extreme richness of my primary way of perceiving the world. As far as I know, Pillault doesn’t have the advantage of being able to type, so his paintings are the only way most people will ever see the richness of his life.
And besides that, I just absolutely love any art that evokes my main way of perceiving things.
One caution though: Please don’t like these paintings because they’re really good for an autistic guy. That’s insulting. His paintings are good because they’re good.
And nobody should have to be put into the position of proving their personhood through writing, painting, or any other activity. I know too well what it’s like to see people relax when they realize I’m “in there”. Or to have people praise me lavishly for anything I try to do: The message I get is “that’s really good for a retard”. I don’t know anybody who likes being told that kind of thing, and that’s unfortunately behind a lot of people’s amazement at what disabled people do.
I know that as an autistic artist, sometimes it becomes AUTISTIC (in huge letters) artist (in tiny letters). Or “what an inspiration” (eurrrgh). The only reasons I’m bringing disability into these paintings are that I wanted to show that there’s more to demonstrating that we are whole human beings than just writing, and I wanted to show a good example of an underrated perceptual experience.
But always understand that we shouldn’t have to demonstrate our personhood at all. We are people. End of story. But in this messed up world, any one of us has to take any route we can possibly take, even as we are wishing we didn’t have to. And lacking speech and writing, people can still find ways of saying we exist, explaining how we view the world, and expressing the same fire of creativity that motivates any artist.
[Image description: Two acrylic paintings, each of two stylized people using various shades of blue. In one, they are standing close, one kneeling a little and leaning in with clasped hands, the other leaning back. In the other, they are touching near the waist, and curved around in a loving fashion.]
You have a person in a physical sense — they have hair, a nose and a mouth — but they are not people in the psychological sense.
Ivar Lovaas, talking about autistic people
This is the type of really terrible quote I’m trying to document in this tumblr and the related blog.
When a condition:
* Incorporates lack of consciousness into its definition
* Measures lack of consciousness by physical responsiveness
It’s found that some people, diagnosed the exact same way as everyone else, show that they are conscious while diagnosed with this condition. This may happen by brain scan (showing movement areas of the brain changing when asked to move, or things like that), the person after “waking up” recounting things that happened while “unconscious”, lots of other things.
Instead of admitting these states don’t truly have to mean unconsciousness.
Professionals respond by retroactively undiagnosing such people, and continuing to treat all others with the condition as unconscious. With serious consequences (like death) for those so diagnosed.
For instance: coma, persistent vegetative state. Lesser examples (where people are generally regarded as conscious but not as conscious as other people — and still may defined as nonpersons by certain icky philosophers) can occur with diagnoses like autism (or “severe” autism) or severe/profound intellectual disability.
Bar conversations are iffy at best. But, I’d fallen into conversation with a couple and we were talking about a variety of issues. I illustrated a point I was making by referring to a television commercial that’s playing here in England about child abuse. In it a diversity of children are presented, of course, as usual, diversity did not mean disability. Even though children with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violence than other children, none were represented in the commercial. ‘Well, of course, not,’ said the young man, ‘because you can understand why a parent would want to hit a disabled child.’ I was stunned, he continued, ‘you raise normal kids, you feed disabled ones.’ I said, ‘Seriously, you are seriously saying this to me?’ I thought maybe he was just trying to wind me up, but a couple seconds more of chat, and it was clear, they’d received the message that disabled people are simply ‘useless eaters’ - echos of a different time are still chilling.
When considering making contact with people who have multiple disabilities — those who are considered to be so significantly mentally disabled that they are in a “vegetative” (that’s what it’s called) state — there is a huge obstacle. Prejudice. Yours. Mine. Ours. Against them. The difficulty here is that prejudice will feel like pity. You may be overwhelmed by a sense of hopelessness first, and then, if you examine the feeling long enough, terror.
They can’t be “like us” because then the logical extension of that is that they must be “feeling in there” and what they are feeling in there is what we’d be feeling in there — desperation, hopelessness, isolation, loneliness. The misuse of your sense of identification with the person inside that body will lead you to think horrible thoughts.
“I’d rather be dead than be like that.”
“If I was like that I’d like to be smothered.”
Well, back off. This isn’t about you. Catching a first glimpse of a soul inside a body that is so different from your own can be frightening, true. But it can, if you work hard enough, be exhilarating. I know, I know, I know, you have to “walk a mile in their moccasins.” The temptation is to engage in an incredible waste of time and psychological energy — spending time imagining what it would be like to be you inside them. How egocentric is that?
The issue is coming to understand and to get to know what it’s like to be them, in them. That’s the joy of contact, of connection. It allows us other perspectives. The placing of ourselves inside someone else and then imagining what it would be like, is not learning — it’s like masturbation but without the stickiness. And while it’s fun, and it is fun, it’s not particularly valuable.
And it gets in the way.
How can you make contact with someone when all you see reflected in their eyes is your sad face? Get out of the way. Understand that you are you. You are only you. Now look again, look past your own reflection and what do you see?
Some one else.
Cool, huh? Even cooler is to discover who that person is. To do this you need to step by prejudice. Please, please, please, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you don’t harbour anti-disability sentiments inside your heart. Please don’t say, “but my child…” “but my best friend is…” or even “but I’m…” We everyone of us is prejudiced against those who are different. Awareness is the first step.
Documenting some of the worst of disability prejudice -- the idea that some of us are "empty shells" -- and the reality behind that illusion.
Expect awful, nightmarish quotes, as well as wonderful quotes from people who really get things right, and interesting quotes from people who make you think..
For more details, see About.