Special visual artists: The effects of autism and slowbrain atrophy on art productionand creativity
Introduction The artwork of special artists with brain damage can potentially reveal quite a bit about the neuropsychological nature of talent. Extraordinary isolated talent in otherwise cognitively and socially handicapped autistic individuals has been a source of puzzlement to neuropsychologists and scholars for a long time (Mottron eta!., 2003; Sacks, 1995; Selfe, 1977; Treffert & Wallace, 2002). The well-described autism cases of Nadia, EC, and Stephen Wiltshire produce graphic line drawings in black and white showing realistic objects, small and large, from models, pictures, and memory on a level that very few non-autistic individuals can achieve. However, there is little or no abstraction in their productions. The drawings are proportionately correct, details are faithfully rendered, and they depict three-dimensional space. Not only are they executed at a level that few in the general population could ever achieve, but also they can mentally rotate a given object in their mind's eye and then render that image on paper. This is truly remarkable, especially considering that artistic savants comprise a very tiny fraction of the autistic population. However, despite the fact that they display such graphic skills from a very young age, these skills do not substantially improve, develop, or change in significant ways, as they grow older, even following attempts to provide them with art lessons. Because there is no serious artistic growth and there is absence of other artistic qualities, their concurrent flawless performance in neuropsychological tests designed to measure visuo-perceptual, visuo-spatial, and visuo-constructive abilities questions the generalizability of such tests to art production.