Interviewed and Translated by Huan Zhang
“I feel what they gave me is way more than what I gave them. Because these kids are so emotionally sophisticated and abundant that they can see tiny beautiful elements in daily life which we can’t see.”
– Tian Wang
Autistic or artistic?
Evaluation is not important.
It is only important to know
when we pass these paintings,
we have been fully enchanted.
Tian Wang is one of the art therapists and the international affairs manager of AOAart studio. This studio was founded in March, 2012, at Beijing 798 Art District, and is attached to Beijing Rehabilitation Association of Autistic Children (BRAAC). “AOA” stands for autistic or artistic. They help build confidence for autistic people through art education and therapy.
After exhibitions in Japan, Korea, U.K. and Kenya, Wang and other volunteers of AOAart brought the artworks of autistic kids from Beijing to New York this September. This four-day exhibition is part of “Communication without Language – International Art Exhibition of Autistic Kids”. AOAart also launched a multi-location 24 hour painting holding event in Manhattan and a humanity seminar about art and autism in Parsons New School for Design.
Please tell us about yourself and the reason why you choose the career as an art therapist.
My name is Tian Wang. I have been working as an art therapist for autism since 12 years ago.My first encounter with autism was back in senior high when I was teaching an autistic kid to play the piano. At that time, I only felt that he had an eccentric personality which was different from us. But later on, after I had more contact with autistic people, I gradually realized that we had many misunderstandings towards them.
The reason why I kept doing this for all these years is that, as I’ve been telling everyone, I feel what they gave me is way more than what I gave them. Because these kids are so emotionally sophisticated and abundant that they can see tiny beautiful elements in daily life which we can’t see. They taught me how to treat life, how to love, how to tolerate, how to be thankful, how to see every tiny beauty in the world.
For these 12 years, sometimes I felt bitterly and tired, and especially it is difficult to do charity in China – so there are many challenges. But just like our exhibition is now in New York, I feel that we can do better and better on this road despite of the difficulties.
Tell us something about this exhibition.
All artworks in this exhibition are created by autistic kids. Many people may ask, “what is art therapy?” We are just using the most simple and unadorned, most moving and tangible methods to know them, like painting and music. Only after we get to know them can we help them to solve their behavioral and psychological problems. So, all these paintings were created during the process of improving their emotional and behavioral status.
We found these artworks truly valuable because the world they saw and felt was so different from ours that they just created a completely different world which is such stunning. From the paintings behind me, you may feel the innocence. Our studio in Beijing is called “paintings of innocent person”. We want to tell people that they have the most unadorned and innocent expressions.
How to help these kids with art therapy?
First, creating art is a very pleasant process, without any hostility. They tend to express themselves under this situation. For example, the kids have difficulties in communication, so if we ask them the same question using verbal language repeatedly, they may get nervous and panicked. But art is like a door, bringing us closer to each other without those negative feelings. Therefore, instead of common conversation therapy, art therapy is the most acceptable and easiest way for them. And this method also excavated their artistic talents. They see a different world so their arts are stunning. And such astonishment is exactly what art wants to achieve.
What’s the difference between arts of autistic kids and arts of un-autistic people?
Their expressions are unadorned. We don’t teach a kid to draw, because his art cannot be taught. What he expressed is his natural status which is not disciplined by social norms, not like some artists, whose art is apparently influenced by certain social disciplines. There’re no boundaries in our kids’ art. it’s always beyond imagination!
How did you come up with the idea of this international exhibition and 24-hour on street painting holding event?
New York is a metropolis of art, so we hope people to treat their art as fine arts but not only crafts. If we don’t tell you the arts are from autistic kids, you may think they are beautiful works as well. What I want to say is that we need to support and love these autistic kids instead of feeling pity for them. They need our acceptance. Only if you accept him could he have a place for himself in the society and therefore become a truly respected person.
The main purpose of this event is to make more people recognize and know them, to see their sparkles and respect them, to treat them equally in life. We held their painting for 24 hours. What we hoped was that everyone could lend a hand and hold up their painting to show their acceptance and support. Although this is a very simple gesture, just like when you see their paintings and think they’re beautiful, it’s important for the kids.
Why did you say on the humanity seminar that what AOAart doing is focused on happiness?
It is because the kids have very beautiful sides. We are not selling our tears or our sorrows, instead, we are showing the public their beautiful sides – their talent, their gifts, their strengths which we need to learn from. The international art exhibition is to let more and more people to see this. We believe when everybody gives a hand and see the beauty of their paintings, they will feel happy. Charity is not giving out negative energy. What we want to show is very positive and let this warm feeling become bigger and bigger like a rolling snowball.
Presented by International Foundation for Women Artists
Original content in Mandarin Chinese: