When my friend Sydney came to visit, she brought me a very intriguing book, called “Blackstock’s Collections—The Drawings of an Artistic Savant.” It was interesting to me right away to see that more familiar term “autistic” savant had been replaced by “artistic.” I’m not positive, but I think “artistic savant” is neither an official designation, nor in common usage. My impression is that is was coined for the book, to avoid the pejorative associations many still have with the idea of an autistic person—after all, the term in use before “autistic savant” was “idiot savant.” I Googled the term autistic savant, and it led me straight to a brief, fascinating Wikipedia article on Savant Syndrome. Here is part of what it had to say:
According to Treffert, about half of persons with savant syndrome have autistic disorder, while the other half have another developmental disability, mental retardation, brain injury or disease. He says, "... not all autistic persons have savant syndrome and not all persons with savant syndrome have autistic disorder". Other researchers state that autistic traits and savant skills may be linked, or have challenged some earlier conclusions about savant syndrome as "hearsay, uncorroborated by independent scrutiny”. Though it is even more rare than the savant condition itself, some savants have no apparent abnormalities other than their unique abilities. This does not mean that these abilities weren't triggered by a brain injury of some sort but does temper the theory that all savants are disabled and that some sort of trade-off is required. (see Prodigious Savants below).
The book Sydney gave me is a picture book of Gregory Blackstock’s visual lists. With typical autistic focus, Blackstock meticulously catalogues life around him with amazing and endearing detail. But that’s just the tip of his personal iceberg. Among his many other skills, he can play just about any insturment he picks up, and speaks 12 languages, many learned from co-workers during his 25 year employment as a dishwasher at the Seattle, Washington Atheletic Club. Retired since 2006, Blackstock is enjoying his free time and his fame. And while he is described as a classic autistic person, one look at this drawings, and it’s easy to see he deserves the term “artistic” as much as anyone can.
In reading about Blackstock, I came across another term that’s used to describe works that fall outside the regular accepted venues of contemporary artists: Outsider Art. Although this term was first coin back in 1972 as an English synonym for Art brut—a term used by French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art done outside the parameters of official culture. In Dubuffet’s case, he had a special interest in art produced by insane asylum patients. These days, the English term covers a much broader range of art, including naïve art, folk art and art done by savants.
Another artist who was definitely an outsider, and likely an autistic savant, was the late Henry Darger (1892-1973). His unconventional childhood and heremetic adult life culminated in his astonishing and prodigious (15,145 pages of hand-lettered text plus hundreds of illustrations) life’s work, known by a portion of its title—“In the Realms of the Unreal.” A documentary, by the same title, delves into Darger’s background, and the posthumous discovery of his elaborate fantasy story, as well as his numerous other works.
Henry Darger died one year after the term Outsider Art was first coined, and appreciation of outsider artists was in its infancy, so he missed all the appreciation that has developed over the intervening decades. If his drawings and writing had seen the light of day back then, he might not have been fully appreciated in his time the way Blackstock is today: Gregory Blackstock had a gallery exhibition in Seattle in 2006. And this year will mark the 17th annual Outsiders Art Fair in New York. But then again, gentle reclusive Henry might have been very uncomfortable with the attention. But Henry Darger was not left outside in the cold, and has become a cultural icon, with references to him and his fantastic world showing up in poems, songs and a host of pop cultural references. Perhaps outsider is a term that, like idiot, that need to be replaced.
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.