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by Peter Myers, Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright
Jessica Kingsley, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Aug 8th 2004

An Exact Mind

Peter Myers' drawings and other pictures would be striking and engaging even if one knew nothing about him.  The fact that he has Asperger Syndrome adds to the interest of his work, and in this book psychologists offer some speculation as to how his artistic style is affected by the mental characteristics associated with his condition.  Nevertheless, not everyone with Asperger's is a talented artist, and it's important to recognize that Myers' abilities may be in some ways enhanced by the capacities that come with Asperger's, but his talent is unique to him. 

An Exact Mind is one of the best books about the work of an artist with a psychological disorder that I have seen.  It is divided into three parts, all of which are amply illustrated with Myers' work.  The first, "About Peter," gives some of the details of his life and his interest in art, and contains black and white reproductions of his pictures, most of them done in felt tip.  It seems that the originals were done with black ink on white paper, so the reproductions are able to give a good idea what they look like.  The section part is a collection of color plates with some comments added by Myers.  The third part is a discussion by the psychologists Simon Baron-Cohen and Sally Wheelwright about the light Myers' work sheds on theories of autism and Asperger's, and is illustrated by more black and white pictures and details from his art.  It's a beautifully produced paperback, and the pictures are extremely strong and beautiful.  It is work I'd be very pleased to have adorning my own home. 

Myers' work is highly geometrical and based on patterns of lines.  As with so many artists who have been diagnosed with mental disorders, his art fills the frame, especially in the pictures where patterns dominate.  The drawing is full of energy and the images are very attractive.  They pull in the viewer, and maybe especially for people with slightly obsessional natures, they invite very close scrutiny.  One of my favorite pictures is "Mosaic Circles -- Mk-II (Blue 4 U)", which is 27.7 x 29.1 cm, done in felt tip pen and metallic ink, dated 3.48pm, 8 September, 2000, York.  It is composed entirely of blue dots of different shades of blue, arranges into circular patterns.  Presumably it would be possible to create a picture such as this with a computer program, but this is done by hand, with the slight imperfections that go with a human creator.  When one considers how much time, patience and planning it must have taken to create this image, one is amazed. 

The incredible attention to detail and careful execution of these pictures are massively impressive.  These skills are put to good work with Myers' powerful sense of composition: the small patterns create larger patterns and make the whole work very pleasing to the eye.  Some of the pictures have thematic content.  For example, "Untitled" from 7.05pm, 18 October, 2001, Houston, Texas includes pictures of dolphins, storks, alligators, suitcases, cacti and a bright sun, and Myers' text explains that these are things he experienced on a trip to Mexico.  One of the most fascinating images is "Untitled" from 1979, Darlington, which shows a blank human figure colored green attached to a robot of some kind, and other machines and figures are scattered through the picture.  Most of the space is drawn in black lines, but some parts are colored in with bold hues.  Myers writes that "It is a machine, an automaton, with no control over its own existence.  What 'this world' seemed to expect, demand of me, was quite literally killing me.  My very soul, being, essence of self seemed stifled and life itself was ebbing out of me."  The psychologists add that the picture was created when Myers was depressed and that the picture was a form of self-therapy, which was successful. 

An Exact Mind will be of special interest to anyone enthusiastic about art brut, especially because there has been relatively little attention paid previously to work by people with Asperger's.  It is fascinating to see the resemblances between Myers' art and that of some other outsider artists diagnosed with different conditions.  The book will also appeal to the many people who have a friend or relative with Asperger's, partly because it sheds some light on the subjective experience of living with the condition.  Highly recommended. 

 

 

© 2004 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

 

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.