How do you communicate?

Old Town Sign Post taken from Sharon Drummond's Flickr photostream

My wife and I have a problem whenever we go out to eat, and it is something that I don’t think we will ever be able to rectify.  She is someone who, upon the conclusion of her meal, likes to sit there and chat and digest.  I, on the other hand, need to immediately move.  I despise sitting still in a restaurant after eating.  I start readjusting my seat. My leg starts bouncing up and down.  I fail to pay attention to the conversation at hand.  I just need to move.  I need to get out of there.  There’s no real reason to it, I just hate staying still right after eating.  This is why Golden Harvest is perfectly suited to my dining needs.  Once you’re done, they are going to kick you out.

Not all restaurants are like Golden Harvest though.  Some places will be content with filling your coffee cup over and over and over again.  I hate this.  Mostly because my wife will drink her coffee and engage in, what I can only assume is, the most meaningful and wonderful conversation of her life.  I don’t know.  I stopped paying attention, and I cannot fathom why anyone would want to stay put after eating unless it was so utterly engrossing.  This inability to control my ADHD after eating has indirectly led me to discovering the art scene in Old Town though.

Not following me?  Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

Across the street from Old Town Diner, which used to be the home of the greatest hash browns in the entire world (and sadly that cook no longer works there), was a shop called Spiderhouse Gallery.  This store/gallery was perfect.  If Kate wanted to hang out and drink coffee and discover all the mysteries of the world, she could.  If she cared to join me and look at some local art, she could.  I would leave, and have something to do, and she would get to choose whether or not to stay at the diner.

It was at Spiderhouse where we bought our first piece of artwork together.  We really dug the colors/layout of the painting, and even more so, we were enamored with the price tag.  Now, I have always enjoyed going to galleries and looking at art and wishing it was on my wall.  However, I take objection to artists who slather paint on something, put a few nails in there, and sell try to sell it for hundreds or thousands of dollars.  I understand that you “can’t put a price on art,” and that “beauty/worth is in the eye of the beholder,” yet if you are attempting to sell a piece of your artwork, it needs to be affordable or priced reasonably to the value of time/effort you put into it.  (I have a similar hatred for going to antique stores and seeing a rusty pair of garden shears priced at $50.  Just go buy a $10 dollar pair of garden shears and leave it outside for a summer, exposed to all the elements).

Now, I really, really, really want to go off on a rant here, but I digress.  You don’t read my articles for my worldviews on art (even though they are amazing).  You read to discover new things in Lansing.  So…one day at Spiderhouse, my wife and I found a painting with a great price tag.  The price tag said “A bottle of Riesling.”  We looked around at the artist’s other pieces.  The price tags asked for tubes of specific paint, tablets of paper, and many other art supplies.  She was only trying to recoup what she had used for each item.  This was something I could get behind.  Someone just wanted to share her art with the world, and found a reasonable way to do so.  Kate and I asked them to put a hold on the painting, and we went ahead and bought a bottle of wine, a tube of paint, a tablet, and something else and paid for the artwork.  It was much more than she asked for, but we loved the piece, and we loved how she priced everything out.

Around this same time, I was working with children on the Autism Spectrum.  It was a job

Absolute Gallery in Old Town, taken from Aunt Owwee's photostream on flickr.

that was extremely challenging and rewarding.  It was a job that required a great deal of patience, which I have in spades when it comes to dealing with children, but not with restaurants.  It was a job that changed my worldview.  I’ve worked in the educational setting since I was 14 years old.  Kids are great.  They make me laugh, they speak their mind without holding back, and it is amazing watching people discover something for the first time.  It’s also uplifting to help them discover ways to convey their emotions.  Working with children with Autism is entirely different.  You have to find ways to help autistic children convey what they are feeling.  Sometimes you are able to point at pictures of faces with a smile or a frown and the child will point out how they are feeling.

One child that I worked with closely, had very limited verbal skills.  This child was capable of great mood swings.  This was attributed to the fact that he was incapable of explaining how he felt at the time.  Now, you and I are capable of conveying our emotions through words and actions.  We are able to tell our friends and family that we are angry due a series of events.  We can recognize the factors that brought us joy and act accordingly.  Someone with ASD has all the same emotions that we have, yet it is extremely difficult to convey those emotions properly.

Think back to a time when you were so excited, or angry, that you just felt the need to scream.     Think of a time where someone said to you “A penny for your thoughts,” and you had no idea how to explain what you were just thinking or feeling.  What about attempting to describe the color red to someone who is blind?  These can be moments where we are frustrated with our inability to convey what we are thinking or feeling, but we all have outlets of some form   And Art Therapy can be a great outlet for children and adults with Autism.

People with Autism are very visual thinkers.  Those on the ASD scale who are less verbal than others may be able to convey their emotions through art itself.  Others may use their art as something to work their frustrations out on.  Still others will find themselves engrossed in the process of creating art that they become less frustrated and are found to be able to convey their feelings at a more even or comfortable pace.  It’s not that people with ASD are incapable of feeling strong emotions, it is that there is a difficult time processing their thoughts and turning it into dialogue.  Yet, those who diagnosed on the Autism spectrum are very visual thinkers.  Their art speaks to that fact.  And that art speaks to me.

Art is a way to stimulate conversation.  It is supposed to make you think.   It’s a form of communication.  However, without going off on another tangent, much of the art I see in a gallery does not speak to me.  I find no draw to it.  It does not make me stop and think about the world.  It does not challenge me.  But I can always count on one exhibit every year to make me stop in my tracks.

Absolute Gallery logo taken from their website.

Absolute Gallery’s “Art of Austism” exhibit, featuring young Michigan artists who fall under the ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), runs this year through the end of March, and is well worth your time.  Kathy Holcomb, owner of Absolute Gallery, will walk you through the exhibit, and tell you a story about each of the artists involved.  It’s more than the usual spiel about an artist that you get at any gallery.  It’s a story of her interactions with each artists, full of anecdotes.  It’s a story of where the artists are from, and what their interests are.  You get the sense that Kathy is more invested in the artists than the art, and that’s the way it should be.  It is something you definitely need to check out.

Oh, and remember that child I mentioned above?  The one with wild mood swings, who was non-verbal.  When he was happy, he would find a picture of Elmo from Sesame Street and point to it.  If he was angry, he would generally throw things or run down the hallway.  After one particularly trying day, just before he was to go home, he handed me a picture he drew.  It was a picture of him, me, and Elmo.  That is my favorite piece of art of all time.