Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Extreme Diversity as Art and Contribution

I saw something in passing today that gave me what felt like an electric bolt in my heart. Browsing on the TED site for talks about aging and creativity I saw this:

Temple Grandin: The world needs all kinds  of minds  (http://www.ted.com/talks/temple_grandin_the_world_needs_all_kinds_of_minds.html). 
Here's the TED blurb about the talk: 
Temple Grandin, diagnosed with autism as a child, talks about how her mind works -- sharing her ability to "think in pictures," which helps her solve problems that neurotypical brains might miss. She makes the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart geeky kids.

What she's speaking about is an idea I have always naturally believed and find myself growing in my engagement with Alzheimer’s and Dementia folks in my Art for Special Seniors classes. I am doing these classes because I can, and I have great patience for this population. But the truer, deeper reason is that I am so excited about the idea that everyone is a contributor: that the perspective offered by every single person, especially those with off-center or unacceptable worldviews, is unique, important and in need of full expression. 

I love the senior and altered mind populations and create methods, exercises and artistic journeys that allow those without a trusted voice to actually look at what they see, hear and feel and express it. It's great art to me! Like Van Gogh, or Modigliani, there is a unique eye/ear/experience here asking to be spoken.  I find myself holding my breath as she expresses what a curve in her drawing feels like, or why he chose this particular picture to add to a collage. It’s all about nuance and my experience is that these expressed nuances are valuable to well being and contribute to the whole in unseen ways. So, in a sense, it’s about empowering the ability of each person to distinguish what is perceived, and to express it. Which is also my own deeper journey, I guess, of always becoming more conscious and expressed. Thoughts need space to move and complete themselves.

Taking this thought further, what if Alzheimer’s could be seen, rather than just a disease, as a human adaptation, providing something the collective whole needs? Or, in expressing what IS there, greater quality of life is available and unimagined ideas can move and complete?

If you think this idea is superficial or dangerous? First consider: it is a unique eye to contribute to the art of life. It also gives voice to what’s here, reducing the frustration and fear that often accompanies illness. If I've learned anything as a human and an artist, it is that where you are in life at this very moment is important. Not where you or others think you should or could be. And mostly I've noticed that those with Alzheimer’s are having a way better time of it than their caregivers, who are usually stuck in should/was/isn't.

A comment under Temple's TED talk talks about a Danish man who is primarily employing people with Asberger’s syndrome. He found that it was perfectly possible for them to work commercially with tasks that required focus and dedication of a specialized mind. Not surprisingly one of their most valued services is intensive software testing and meticulous documentation. The hardest part for him was to make his employees go home from work and not work overtime.  Love it!

Grandin said we need to help students with unique minds be successful. And it starts by recognizing the value of each person as contribution. I am contemplating this idea as one of life's arts. Diversity expanded exponentially, as life keeps using those fractals to divide, mirror, alter and grow. What do you think?


Post a Comment