Stephen Wiltshire: A View of the World

While doing some research this week, I fortuitously rediscovered the art of Stephen Wiltshire. I still vividly remember as a child, only a year older than Stephen himself, watching his uncanny ability to recreate architectural detail in the 1986 QED documentary The Foolish Wise Ones .  I encountered Stephen again a few years later in neurologist Dr. Oliver Sack’s book An Anthropologist on Mars (1995), in which Stephen was a subject in the doctor’s investigation into autistic savants. At that time, the understanding of the autistic brain still tended to explain such precocious abilities as a copying of memorised details and saw autistics as intrinsically unable to interact with the world in an empathetic and creative manner, their lack of socialisation also preventing them from leading a ‘normal’ life. Sacks concluded his chapter on Wiltshire by saying:                                                                                   “Stephen’s drawings may never develop, may never add up to a major opus, an expression of a deep feeling or theory or view of the world. And he may never develop, or enter the full estate, the grandeur and misery, of bring human, of man.”

And so it was a great pleasure to discover that Stephen has developed; an MBE, interacting with people around the world and working from his own gallery in London for the past ten years. His collection of work is indeed a ‘major opus’, displaying a range of styles used to express his own individual interpretation of the build environments around him. He also displays a desire to keep challenging his abilities, publicly performing the detailed drawings of massive panoramas of cities such as New York, Tokyo, Istanbul and Singapore, all from memory. Stephen’s works and biography can be seen at http://www.stephenwiltshire.co.uk

While Stephen is an exceptional example of what people with autism are capable of, it is still encouraging to see that, since 1986 and 1995, not only has Stephen developed but so too has our understanding of what it is to be autistic. People diagnosed with autism are no longer seen as intellectually-challenged automatons, merely mimicking what they see or hear, but have shown that they have as profound a relationship and understanding of the world as anyone else. By listening to their stories, we have learned to understand their experience of the world and to recognise in what ways this makes us similar rather than focussing on what makes them ‘abnormal’. In his book The Reason I Jump, 13-year-old autistic boy Naoki Higashida answers the question, ‘would you like to be normal?’:
“I used to think it’d be the best thing if I could just live my life like a normal person. But now, even if somebody developed a medicine to cure autism, I might well choose to stay as I am. Why have I come round to thinking this way? To give the short version, I’ve learnt that every human being, with or without disabilities, needs to strive to do their best, and by striving for happiness you will arrive at happiness. For us, you see, having autism is normal – so we can’t know for sure what your ‘normal’ is even like. But so long as we can learn to love ourselves, I’m not sure how much it matters whether we’re normal or autistic.”

11th June 2015

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2 thoughts on “Stephen Wiltshire: A View of the World

  1. I had forgotten watching this too, it was really nice to get an update on what has been happening in his life.
    Well done.

    Like

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