SchoolArts Magazine

MAY 2019

SchoolArts is a national art education magazine committed to promoting excellence, advocacy, and professional support for educators in the visual arts since 1901.

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M E E T I N G I N D I V I D U A L N E E D S I n 2017, the Cullis Wade Depot Art Gallery at Mississippi State Uni- versity showcased photography by l ocal children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in a group art exhibi- tion, Through Their Eyes. C ompact digital cameras were distributed to nine families who agreed to partici- pate so children could capture infor- mal scenes from everyday life over a p eriod of several months. The children and other family members were given a wide range of opportunities to take candid photographs when and where they chose. The hope was that this achievement would allow viewers to understand how children with ASD view the world in unusual ways. An Evening of Art The 300 photographs on display were surprising in terms of subject matter, as well as vantage point and composition. Each young artist was recognized and given the opportunity to write a brief description of their artwork. At the art reception, families gathered to celebrate a community accomplishment. There was a "safe space" corner where chil - dren could enter a comfort zone away from bright lights and loud noises. The two curators of the show, who are both scientists and mothers of children with autism, created a Face- book page (@LensofAutism) to docu- ment the process and promote the event. Starkville Area Arts Council provided a grant to support the occa- sion. The art exhibition statement reads, "Our children are autistic. What does that mean? To many it is a word that defines and confines them, to us it is a gift, a chance to see the world from a new perspective." Second Viewing In 2018, I viewed the exhibition's sec- ond showing at Art in Public Places, Starkville Area Arts Council. I asked curators Jennifer Seltzer and Diana Outlaw about the photography on display. Rowan, age nine, and his sister Jac- queline, age seven, have photographs i n the show. Rowan's artist statement reads, "Rowan's extreme attention to detail is astounding and reflected in his photos." Some children with autism can focus on objects from unusual vantage points. Rowan's mother explained that Rowan took the photograph of a paper bag with popcorn while watching his sister in a Brazilian jiujitsu competition. This inspired his photo, Bag of Popcorn. Another child, Arya, has several photographs. When I asked which was her favorite, she pointed to one of her sitting in the backseat of a car with a view of her legs only. "Why?" I asked. "Because of my knees," she said. Her artist statement explained, "Arya has always marched to her own beat, and she is one of the toughest and bravest people we have ever known." When I asked Arya which was the most important photograph, she pointed to a photograph of her face. "I took that one," her mother said. These state - ments by Arya demonstrate how mak- ing art with other creative people can b e an opportunity for a person with autism to establish emotional bonds. Suggestions for Photography Lessons One book about how to introduce pho- tography to youth is called Go Photo! A n Activity Book for Kids by Alice Proujansky (Aperture, 2016). Its play- ful format includes tips on how to take p hotographs. Recommendations such as "mix-up lessons," "don't get caught up in the technical stuff," "move around," "decide what goes in the picture," "take lots of pictures," "be still," and "zoom with your feet" are helpful suggestions that are open-ended and therefore not restrictive about developing one's own style as an artist. There is minimal text with playful illustrations and key con - cepts to grasp and practice. With play- ful step-by-step benchmarks, it makes l earning easy for children—by them- selves or with parents or other children. Recommendations for Art Teachers • Expose students to the concept of street photography as a way to Through Their E es Gillian J. Furniss The hope was that this achievement would allow viewers to understand how children with ASD view the world in unusual wa s. CONTINUED ON PAGE 46. Rowan, Bag of Popcorn, age nine. 12 MAY 2019 SchoolArts

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