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Sunday, August 30, 2015

New update on the current painting; Working in egg/varnish tempera

Stephanie Tihanyi- under painting to current artwork

Here is some new photos of the current painting. Excuse the light, I took it under normal light bulb at night, but I do paint in the day under natural light only. I have working to bring out new highlights on the angels wings and armor as well as the tigers face and plants. I am leaving the face and arm till later as these have to be done with higher sensitivity.

I am going to follow my hero Austrian visionary painter, Ernst Fuchs and try to imitate his use of intense vivid color back grounds. For me it would be a great chance to learn by practice his amazing technique (I have painted the white egg tempera under paint at the top and will continue a little at the sides. Below are two works by Ernst Fuchs
Ernst Fuchs-Angel head on blue background

Ernst Fuchs

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Detail Obsessed Artist

Under-painting in egg tempera
and oil on new work -Stephanie Tihanyi
Under-painting on new work
(oil and egg tempera) Stephanie Tihanyi
I having a thoroughly absorbing busy day alone in my tiny studio, doing what I love. Absorbed in that timeless dimension, wandering free in that empire of detail. I am working on new painting, putting dark lights into the red/gold duo-chrome of the under-painting to gain a sense of depth and relief in the foliage and corner of the wings, seen in this detail. Next step would be to go over it again high-lighting with the egg-tempera (in the old masters of the Flemish tradition, such as Jan van Eyck), but that's a far off land for now. This ability to endure and even enjoy long hours of hyper focusing detailing work is a gift of my autism. Its the ability to continue to happily work at something in isolation, where many would give up after a short while.  For all the challenges being on the autistic spectrum has given me throughout my life, I would not ever, ever trade it for anything.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Autism, Shame & Society: An insider’s view

The Star-flower Cactus-by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyright held by the artist)

Autism, Shame & Society: An insider’s view

Published July 21st 2015 in the St. Maarten newspaper The Daily Herald
 When I was a young teen, a close relative’s child died, leaving behind young sibling, who had just been diagnosed with autism. I remember my father saying, “It was sad, but it was sadder, the wrong one died”. He probably did not mean it, but the time I thought it was cruel and I sensed the shame. I did not know, I too was on the autism spectrum.  This toxic shame permeates society, negatively impacting on the lives of autistic parents, children and adults, in ways far worse than their difference ever could. In an enlightened society, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. It is through societal attitudes, those of us who are ADHD, dyslexic, or autistic, grow up, learning to feel shame for who we are. Society has perpetuated a culture of fear, shame, and pity around difference, often making it more of a disability than it needs to be. I believe this shame is intentionally and unintentionally manufactured, often by those who profess to care and that discrimination, against the differently abled, is becoming the major cause of injustice and civil rights issues of our time.

I always knew my brain worked very differently, I never knew why. Far from being devastating, being diagnosed was a relief that gave me validation for my experiences. It helped me understand and accept myself enabling me to re-frame my life, in a new positive way. It helped me forgive myself for being ‘stupid’, for being terribly bullied (at home and at school), for being misunderstood, for always struggling to fit in. It answered questions why being social, was always such a mystery and such hard work. It helped me finally come to terms with a lifetime self-blame and low self-esteem. Like many girls on the spectrum, I craved friends but had few or none. I tended to hang on the edge of groups, in order to learn the group’s social behaviors by observation and copying. I learnt to disguise my lack of social skills by being invisible. Like many kids in today’s ‘special education’, I struggled in school, except for art, but art had little merit in school. At 11, I was labeled as ‘a child having below average capabilities’ and was put in the ‘slow-class’ after being bullied. Then one day, I stunned everybody by creating a huge 200 page folder of pressed wild flowers, in my summer holidays, I collected, identified, pressed, catalogued and labeled them with their common and scientific Latin names. People on the spectrum are an odd mixture of strengths and deficits like that. Back then, the ‘slow class’ didn’t mean you got special education or extra support, it meant they left you on your own. I finished school with no qualifications.

 From my teens to my late 20,s, I had such terrible social anxiety and depression. Many jobs, were beyond my ability to cope, because of sensory issues, even talking to others was difficult. Most of my jobs when I wasn't unemployed were in cleaning and washing-up. I had to practice over and over in my head sentences, just to be able to ask for a packet of cigarettes in a store or a bag of fruit at the grocers. It was so hard to get the right words out or intonation in the right order, together with the right body language, without looking totally weird, frightening people or irritating them. I memorized scripts for everything.  Many people on the spectrum do in time develop, abet atypically and later in life.  I eventually got better at engaging with people and even taught myself many subjects I had missed in school, like writing, but art remained my one special passion that I never had to work at. Looking back, I never imagined I would be the person I am now, capable of doing what I do now.

Following my diagnosis, I read a lot, I also talked with other autistic people, read their books, articles, research and blogs. I found a common experience and was stunned by a profound dissonance between how autistic people viewed themselves, their lives and how the rest of society views them, which was shockingly judgmental, negative, inaccurate and unjust.  Right from the start, from the time someone came up with the word ‘autism’ or ‘Asperger’s’, the condition has been judged from the outside, and not from the inside, not as from how it has been experienced. No one really knows autism is, but most in the medical field believe it’s a disorder caused by genetic defects or environmental harm, either way it’s a disease to be cured, that the value of talents attributed to autism, does not outweigh the deficits, and that autistic people and society would be better off if they were not autistic. They see it only in its diagnostic terms, and purely through a deficit model. They use negative words like 'suffers',' disorder', ‘disease’; they make lists of 'symptoms'. Most all their research comes from child studies, even today, adults are an un-researched mystery. The exclusion of adult autistic voices from the process of knowledge production is ethically and epistemologically problematic and has resulted in a horrendous lack of ethics. I see, that society allows the use of stigmatizing and fear-provoking language, to raise money for genetic research for a cure for child autism or even elimination by pre-natal testing

Emotive words are used in 'awareness campaigns like, ‘horror of autism’, ‘epidemic’, 'devastating' describing autistic children as ‘lepers’, ‘lost’, ‘empty’, soulless’ and ‘tragic’,  accumulated in the now infamous, 2009 Autism Speaks video, aimed at drawing funds from big corporate sponsors, shows a small child looking at the camera and a dead zombie-like voice saying:

“I am autism. I have no interest in right or wrong.  I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined, I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams….And if you’re happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain,” says the video campaign.

These so called ‘charities’, repel all protests and attempts by autistic adults to have any say or voice in policy in their organizations and it’s not hard to see why. This negative and false definition of autism that shapes society’s attitudes of autistics in the 21st century, as ‘scary’, ‘sick’ or tragic’, is being driven by big business at the expense and wellbeing of innocent autistic people and their families. In 2011 of over $314 million that was raised, only 3% went into services support and education and only 1% went into adult services and the rest into genetic research labs.  The biomed movement is no better in its unchecked abuse of ethics in pursuit of funding and the selling of 'cures', many unproven and untested.

The point I make is, the unethical, negative portraying of autistic people, has been successful as a business marketing strategy.  Some of the most extreme Anti-vaccine and anti GMO-crusaders are accused of upping the ante. I have seen the most awful fear-mongering language, shock and awe tactics from this quarter. It’s from this sense of injustice and autistic identification,  I am drawn to defend the wrongful portrayal of all people, who are neuro-diverse. The only way I can do that is to stand up, and speak out, loud and clear.  In the last decade more and more adults from all across the autistic spectrum, across the globe, from all walks of life, scientists, parents, teachers, writers, lawyers, are organizing to advocate for theirs and others human and civil rights. By borrowing lessons from the Black civil rights movement, they are advocating against abuse and discrimination. Best known group is TPGA (Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism) and ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), both are online.  These are people who see themselves, not a disorder, not broken or inferior, but as a variant within the normal neurological diversity, of the human genome. Their struggles, they attribute to psychological stresses of discrimination, intolerance of their differences, lack of supports and the constant perpetuation of negative myths and stereotyping.   
Sometime ago, I wrote a piece in this paper, trying to correct the many of the myths about people with autism and Asperger’s I had read in it. The false myths of the lack of empathy, lack of conscience, or lack feelings etc are wrong. Recently someone wrote about people with Asperger’s having terrible relationships, of being unimaginative and uncreative. Many people with Asperger’s marry; have children and have long happy relationships, why? Because like everyone else who falls in love, we pick and choose our mates, because they have a combination of positive traits, that are similar to or complement our own. Unimaginative?, uncreative?, I will leave that up to you. . I did not write this as a pity piece, but to inspire others to stand up. To tell them its ok to not let others, who don’t know them, define who they are. So you see the shame of autism, does not come from being autistic, it comes 100% from society. Incidentally, that younger autistic relative went on to university, to major in mathematics and speaks 5 languages.

By coming out, I take that shame and I am giving it back, it never really belonged to me, I don’t need it. Finally at last I can accept myself and like who I am. I will leave you with these words by Wired reporter Steve Silberman, author of 'Neurotribes", who wrote in his book ‘The Forgotten History of Autism: ‘We are still trying to catch up to Hans Asperger, who believed that the cure for the most disabling aspects of autism, is to be found in understanding teachers, accommodating employers, supportive communities, and parents who have faith in their children’s potential.

Stephanie Tihanyi  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Commissined works: A portrait of Margret

A step by step view of my painting a portrait of Margret, in the manner of the mid-14th, 15th century Renaissance painters known as Mische technique, an oil/egg resin based technique applied to a wood panel.

Portrait of Margret Step 1. The drawing is sketched in a titanium white-egg tempera on the red earth ground, that is painted upon a wooden panel

Portrait of Margret Step 2. The painting has been given a glaze of cadium yellow and more titanium white egg/tempera has been worked over the top, correcting and defining more selective highlights

Finished my portrait of Donna's mom, Margret, who sits in the garden surrounded by flowering West Indian cedar trees. Margret comes from Dominican Republic and is partly descended from Arawak (Taino) Indians.

A painting of Margret by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyright held by the artist)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Artist Selfie at work

A photo from the other week when I was out in the back painting a backdrop for a local dance school Dance Theater of St. Maarten 's recital, 'Dance Till You drop". I make a little money doing local stage and theater painting.
 It was fun to splash and drip with all the colors, as I am usually so meticulous and tight with my work, its great to ease up and splash it around.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Letter to the Newspaper Autistics are not Pychopaths

Recently I wrote a letter to the newspaper. I felt compelled to write because I needed to correct some statements by a regular writer to the newspaper's opinion page, had made about people with autism/Asperger's. The lady in question often wrote quite nice articles about the helpful practice of mindfulness, which actually I liked to read, however, this time she wrote about people with autism and made the comparison of autism to psychopaths , ' the neurologically disordered' she called us.  Here is my letter:

The Broken- Hearted
 Machine - charcoal sketch by S. Tihanyi
(all copyrights are held by the artist)

An Autistic’s Reply to Mindful Comments by (Name Protected)

"Please allow me a little space in your newspaper to respond to some of the recent comments made by (name protected), about people on the autism spectrum. I give the lady the benefit of the doubt and believe she is compassionate and well-meaning but not aware that some of the facts she, holds are not totally accurate and that their proliferation creates needless fear, stereotyping, avoidance and bullying for autistic people by society. This can cause them shame, lack of self-esteem and depression. I do not intend to bash the lady, but as a high functioning autistic, feel I must set the truth straight, I am also backed up by facts from the very experts she quoted in her article. She states that autistic people, just like everyone else, can have low, medium or high IQ’s and the deficits and gains of both for IQ runs parallel.  Very good. Marriage with a partner on the spectrum can be work and a lot of learning, for both. Yes of course this is correct. The problem is not about their lack of capacity, will or lack of love or caring, its communication. I felt the article was fair but parts were vague and open to misunderstanding, especially the part about the perceived autistic lack of empathy and the comparison to psychopathy. This part troubled me a lot.

I quote the article: “The lack of empathy comes with some neurological disorders, not just autism- the psychopath will derive some pleasure from your pain, but the autistic will wonder what you are complaining about”, Their “(empathy) “needs to be worked on in their youth so that they can learn to reciprocate even if it’s just learnt behavior and does not come from the heart”.

I take issue with this line as it could give the reader the impression that autistics are ingenuous, false, heartless or lacking the capacity for feelings. This terrible perspective has been used to justified all sorts of bullying, discrimination and abuse upon autistic children and adults, whether intentional not, because people believe we don’t have feelings like others. It’s wrong. This misconception came about from early clinical research over the use of the clinical word ‘empathy’. It has been noted by autism experts and attempts have been made to address it over the years but the damage from a misconception around the clinical word “empathy” still lingers, even among some health professionals.

‘Empathy has nothing do to with how the person feels, i.e. whether they feel bad for someone when they are hurting (as in sympathy), love or care about them (unconditional love and altruism). It has to do with understanding the emotional state of another person (cognitive), and responding appropriately.  The ability to recognize the emotional state in another person relies on good communication. Autistics and non-autistics communicate differently. As someone on the autistic spectrum, I can tell you that my difficulties in social situations, have absolutely nothing to do with empathy – chosen or automatic. I quote from an online blog: "When I know someone else is suffering, I can’t help but feel empathy for them. It hurts me inside sometimes so intensely, I am very sensitive, if anything, often, I seem to have more empathy than the average person. Consider this please, if someone told you, in Russian, “I’m sad because my mother died yesterday”, you’ll only feel empathy for their sadness if you understand Russian. If you don’t know Russian, his statement will have no meaning to you and you won’t realize he’s talking about a sad event. For autistic people, nonverbal communication is like a foreign language, and we often don’t understand what it’s conveying. If I don’t realize someone is sad, I won’t show empathy for their sadness. But as soon as they tell me, in a way I understand, I’m sympathetic and feel for them, just as anyone else would. (Whether I’ll know what to do to comfort them is another matter)"
Certainly most parents of autistic kids object strongly to the portrayal of autistics as unfeeling, unloving, and unlovable as well. “Empathy" could be teased into two parts: 1) Awareness-empathy, i.e awareness of other's emotions and well-being, and 2) Caring-empathy, i.e. caring about other people's emotions and well-being. I also quote expert Dr Tony Attwood, who states:

 I think it is important to explain the misinterpretation of other people’s suggestions of a lack of empathy for people with Asperger’s syndrome. I think there are two factors here, one is that the person with Asperger’s syndrome may not be able to read the subtle signals in another person in facial expression, body language and gesture that would normally be associated with a response of compassion or affection. Thus, if the person with Asperger’s syndrome does not respond with a hug or words of compassion the neurotypical defaults to paranoia and then assumes that the person with Asperger’s syndrome lacks care and empathy. It is not that the person lacks care and empathy it is more that they didn’t/could'nt read the signals or body language. Once the signals are recognized, the person with Asperger’s syndrome can be remarkably kind and supportive.

One of autisms biggest researchers, Dr Simon Baron -Cohen has also attempted to address this misconception that people have, of autism’s lack of empathy being the same as the psychopathic/sociopathic lack of empathy: He says, “I want to return to the subject but with more information on WHY there is a misunderstanding about autistic and sociopathic persons and why popular culture tends to screw up portrayals of both. The key difference seems to be that in psychopaths the 'cognitive' component of empathy is intact but the 'affective' component is not. In autism, both components may be impaired, or just the cognitive component. But their strong systemizing leads them, through powerful logic, to develop a moral code based on 'fairness' and 'justice'. Psychopaths lack the moral compass that most people develop using their empathy, and lack the moral compass that people with autism develop using their strong systemizing. People with autism spectrum conditions often end up as 'super-moral', developing a set of rules they expect people to live up to consistently (such as honesty, fairness, duty), arriving at the conclusion that one should 'treat others as you would have others treat you' because it is the most logical approach. He also adds: In my experience whilst even adults with Asperger Syndrome may have difficulties figuring out why someone else’s remark was considered funny, or why their own remark was considered rude, or may judge others as liars when they simply are inconsistent in not doing what they said they would do, they may nevertheless have a highly developed emotional empathy, caring about how someone feels and not wanting to hurt them. If they do hurt them, it is often unintentional and they feel mortified when it is pointed out, and want to rectify this. In this respect, they do have some of the components of empathy.

Many people with autism also form very strong emotional relationships with their pets, worrying about their welfare, and find that whilst they struggle to ‘read’ human behavior and human intentions, they can read the arguably more predictable behavior of a pet. Finally, as mentioned earlier, the difficulties with the cognitive element of empathy by no means leave people with autism devoid of a moral code, and their strong systemizing can mean that they often end up with a more principled moral code than many people without autism. Thank you."