The Art of Autism

In conversation with Mandy Garford: Mental health and the role of creative arts 

The Art of Autism

The Art of Autism 2 - Campaigning for & supporting local autism families 

From the notorious Michelangelo to Mozart and Picasso, autism has not limited the minds of history’s most famed artists. Rather, it has challenged our perception of art. While many once shamed the greatest of minds as ‘inhuman’ or ‘mad’, we now quite rightly embrace the cathartic works of autistic minds. By promoting ‘the art of autism’, we encourage diversity in Modern art.

Local councillor and Chair of the National Autistic Society in Dartford and Gravesham, Mandy Garford, discusses an inspirational art exhibition in Gravesend in the promotion of young and autistic creatives.

“Many of the children grew in confidence during the art exhibition process and one child who had so many anxieties and would not talk actually began to speak. The mental health benefits of both creating the piece and having the piece valued in a community exhibition are huge.” - Mandy Garford

What reactions do you hope to stir from people in your next Art of Autism event?
The Art of Autism is a way people on the Autistic Spectrum can express themselves through art. In the last Art of Autism, we had non-verbal and pre-verbal artists joining in. Whilst for many this may just be a piece of artwork that they are happy to produce or something about themselves, I think it is important that everyone in our society is given the opportunity to have a voice that can be heard, or in this case seen.

Whilst we will be celebrating the amazing work produced I am hopeful that those with low self-esteem or lack of confidence will become more confident in themselves when their work is valued and displayed in the exhibition. At the last Art of Autism Exhibition one piece of feedback I had was from a parent of a child who had taken part. This child was so anxious that he didn’t speak to anyone except at home. However, a breakthrough happened, as he proceeded to tell his dentist all about his work being displayed at the art exhibition! He was so proud of himself, rightly so, and his confidence had been built to such an extent that he felt able to speak. His voice was valued. He felt valued. I can not put a price on that.

I hope that the exhibition will raise awareness of autism - perhaps the struggles and frustrations that people have. Sometimes the internal battles are hard to explain, especially for someone who has difficulty with communication, but it can be both therapeutic for the person creating the art and enlightening for those viewing the art to bridge the gap of understanding and communication through art. I would love for differences to be embraced and not overlooked or hidden. Every single person has a value, and every single person has a voice that is waiting to be heard. I hope to demonstrate that through the Art Exhibition.

What initially inspired you to exhibit the artwork of young autistic minds? 

As a child, I loved to draw. Specifically, I loved to draw emotions. This was perhaps one way I was able to express feelings. Those on the autistic spectrum often have difficulties communicating their emotions which can lead to frustration. Someone on the autistic spectrum does not necessarily suffer from mental health illness, but it’s sometimes the frustration of not being able to communicate, process and express the innermost feelings and thoughts that can cause a person to feel depressed or isolated. This, in turn, can lead to mental illness. Finding an alternative method of communication is vital to encourage good mental health.

In my quest to make my communities more aware of autism, I wrote articles about autism- specifically about my three autistic children- and the difficulties faced by families in today’s society often feeling judged which can lead to isolation. One of my articles was picked up by a local artist Stephen Oliver who is interested in bringing the community together with art. We teamed up and he kindly hosted the first Art of Autism in his studio and gallery.

Also, what advice would you give to young people looking to follow in your footsteps?

Small changes can make big differences. I’m no expert...I’m not anyone special. But I am determined to make a positive difference. Even though I may only be able to reach a few people and show them that they are valued this can be invaluable and life-changing for that family. One by one, if we all aspired to make small changes we would absolutely change our world.

For most people, mental health disorders like autism are just words with little significance. Quite simply, the arts are therapeutic creative activities that offer spaces where words cannot be expressed and meanings can be generated. It is an essential ingredient for Autism Awareness. Essentially, art clears narrow minds. In Mandy’s second year campaigning The Art of Autism, we look forward to an inspiring exhibition in support of local autistic families.

About this event

  • Date: 23-25 March 2018
  • Location: Gravesham Arts/ St. Andrews Arts Centre & aboard historic lightship LV21, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend 
  • Organiser: NAS Dartford & Gravesham

See artwork from The Art of Autism by following FB NAS Dartford and Gravesham @Dartsham


Joanna Bailey

Joanna Bailey Local Reporter

I'm a young freelance magazine journalist, artist and student based in Dartford. When time allows, you'll catch me taking an obsessive number of photos, sketching an abstract digital art portrait or watching an old bucket-listed film. When I'm not blogging, I'm admiring an underrated art piece somewhere or immersed in a classic play or novel.

Check out my Gold Arts Award portfolio here:

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 18 December 2017, 11:01 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    As someone with Autism, this speaks to me on an emotional level. I've always seen music and visual art as a means of expressing myself, and knowing others feel the same way makes me feel less alone. Thank you, Joanna!

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