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Imagination and the art of innocence
Last Updated: 2018-04-04 08:34 | China Daily
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Beijing's Inside-Out Art Museum is holding its sixth annual exhibition showcasing the expressive and colorful works of painters with autism.

Pablo Picasso once said, "It took me four years to paint like Raphael (the Italian Renaissance painter), but a lifetime to draw like a child", and "All Children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up".

In these frequently mentioned quotes, the Spanish master artist, whose paintings are among the most expensive works of art in the world, noted that a child's genuine, carefree approach to painting is rarely found in the adult art world and yet is essential to artistic creation.

Compared to sophistication in skill, this innocence without pretense is even more precious, especially when it is demonstrated by artists living with autism.

This is the main reason why Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum has focused on the art of people with autism, often referred to as "the innocent" in China, for past eight years.

The museum opened its sixth annual exhibition of paintings by people with autism on Sunday, to observe World Autism Awareness Day, which falls on April 2 every year.

The United Nations recognized the first World Autism Awareness Day in 2008, calling for more attention to the day-to-day hurdles that people living with autism have to face.

The exhibition, titledImages of Innocence, features painters from all around China. Most are in their teens. Several of the artists have appeared in exhibitions in previous years.

The works show no indication that they were created by someone on the spectrum; they are as expressive and colorful as those by other young painters without the condition who have received formal training.

The exhibition's organizers hope to create a wider public understanding of the impact autism has on families, rather than focus on the prodigious artistic capacity of children with autism.

Chen Jiayi, the assistant dean of Tsinghua University Schwarzman College, who attended the exhibition's opening, says he is quite impressed by two paintings in particular:Terrified Daddy, which is reminiscent of Edvard Munch's The Scream, and another titled A Family of Artists, which was drawn using intensive line work.

He says the exhibited works are exuberant with imaginative perspectives that are free from the limitations of day-to-day experiences; and they ask the audience to communicate with these painters in a "fair" manner, rather than out of pity.

"They (the painters) speak out their values on their own, through their works," he says.

Standing in front of those lively, vivid paintings on show, one can't help but wonder about the future of the families living with autism, and to ponder whether society will become more inclusive and supportive of them.

"Children with autism live in an innocent world of their own. These painters at the exhibition might no longer paint one day, but their work brings great hope to their parents," says Zhang Gan, a professor at Tsinghua University's art and design department.

"But what if their parents die? How would they live on, and how could they communicate with the world? It is not only about art. It's a serious question we need to think about."

Lu Yinghua, director of the Inside-Out Art Museum, says the work of artists with autism overturns people's stereotypes of art as proper and perfect; their works reflect the complexities of the human mind and body, and the challenges they live with remind people of the social and scientific boundaries that need to broken down.

"Maybe we are far away from resolving these questions right now. But we should move on from being burdened with these problems," she says.

If you go

11 am-6 pm, Wednesday to Friday, 10 am-6 pm, Saturday and Sunday, through April 29. Block 4, Inside-Out Art Complex, 50 Xingshikou Road, Haidian district. 010-6273-0230.

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