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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Spaces in Between- Aspergers, Art & Central Coherence

Detail-from 'A Mote in gods eye'-by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyright held by the artist)
The Spaces in Between, is a piece I wrote about how I use my art to help me express, a personal experience or a story, an idea, or a conversation. I have no comprehension of how it fits into the general ‘big picture’ of things in order that other people can relate to it. It’s important that other people can relate to it as it makes us feel human and connected. There is a struggle to find somewhere to begin, when you have no outline or basic framework, you don’t even know by what name the general topic is called and it’s hard to even verbalize it if you did. However you do know, you have a very, very real need, obsession or passion, if you like, to understand and communicate something real. It’s a mystery, this puzzle, yes; it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the role of art. Through painting I have found a way to gather these pieces together and build my ‘big picture, from the bottom up. While working, I can only see one piece at a time, they are not in order and some of them may be missing. The act of painting them, holds them fixed and recorded, so they stay present when an additional piece (of information), comes along and they do not fade. Let me explain.

Every artist has their own way of making their paintings. They start in a certain way and finish in a certain way. The most widely practiced and understood method is what is taught in art schools. The artist consciously chooses an idea, emotion or concept, with a rough image in their mind beforehand. They have a global idea of the subject and a sort of image of how it will look and its contents. This is what is called ‘big picture thinking’. The general rule is to first plan out a rough layout or a composition. Then add tonal and color values and as work progresses, only adding the details in the final stages, if needed. This is the most usual route in painting and also with any endeavor one wants to achieve in life. Nature has designed most people’s brains to work in this way. The ability to see the 'big picture', emotionally and socially is a cognitive style successfully used by the majority of the population, it’s known as ' central coherence’. It’s similar to someone looking at the planet earth, first seeing it’s a round ball, with oceans, clouds and land-masses, to leaves on trees, fishes in the ocean and then to tiny microbes. However there is a small minority, who because of their neurology, tend to think in a different way. They are detail-thinkers. They have what is known as ‘weak central coherence’. On one hand it benefits sustained focus for creativity and discovery but on the minus side it weakens social and emotional communication and understanding. People, like me, are fascinated with detail, even the details within the details have got details on them, its like a fractual heaven. I am a detail- thinker with this cognitive style, I believe this is reflected in the way I create my artwork. I had no formal art school training, but even if I had, it would have made no difference, as I am sure I would of gotten frustrated with the teaching style.

So when I start a new work, I have a strong feeling of wanting to express something but cannot get a general idea of what. Lots of bits of info flood in but I don’t know how they fit together nor can I hold them together. I cannot verbalize it either it’s just too much and too overwhelming. One doesn’t just open the door, a crack, of the submersible undersea at 10,000 meters and let a little bit of water in, the outside pressure is too great.
 What I do, is start by making random marks with brush, plastic bag, or sponge: anything that can make marks with paint. This is not unlike  Leonardo's technique , which encouraged the viewer to search for meaning in chaos,  Now I feel less anxious because, now there is stuff on there (the canvas). I may not know what it is, but it’s pegged down. Something in the random markings will look like something and catch my attention. I will work detailing it, a great deal. Then I will leave it when it  can give no more information. Again my eye will be caught by another patch to work on somewhere else, and then another.
Painting by Stephanie Tihanyi (all copyright held by the artist)
                    marks in sepia on gesso board - Stephanie Tihanyi
These are random parts have no association with each other and I wonder how the heck can I make a coherent painting for myself, let alone anyone else. But I have been here before and learnt to just press on. As multiple images around the canvas are worked on randomly, something curious and magical seems to happen in the spaces in between. There begins to appear connections that have never been reveled before. It’s now, I really begin to enjoy working on the painting. Something I had not been able to do before now seems to be happening, almost without any struggle from me. As connections across the painting blend, fusion takes place and new concepts and relationships are created. The result is unexpected but carries the excitement of discovery. Sometimes I imagine this process encourages the neuronal branches to make new pathways in my brain. It certainly feels very therapeutic. It makes me feel alive and connected. This victory over previous chaos and the excitement of discovery keeps me painting again and again.
Detail-from 'A Mote in gods eye'-by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyrights held by the artist)
 I have found my own way to see the big picture and it feels good. Isn’t this what we all want, to give meaning to our experiences and be able to place them in a broader context of understanding. Everyone wants to possess a perception of what is life and reality. My way may be longer and take more time, but it is unique, original and it does make sense. But I am not done yet. The finished work affords me an understanding that only the emotional part of me understands. I look at the work, it makes sense, it has meaning, but I cannot say why it feels right. In order to satisfy my need to be understood by others and feel connection with the other, I have to explain my work. Further understanding is achieved when I work at verbally exploring my creation. I need to write about it. Before, the emotional part of me has been satisfied by this expression, now the intellect needs to understand, (also it’s easier for me to communicate on an intellectual level). I guess it’s the two parts (emotional, intellectual), collaborating on a project, for the mutual benefit of the whole, that makes the experience of creating art so beautiful for me. I think whatever your neurology and cognitive style, you are better doing what you are good at, rather than something you are not.