This week, I had the privilege of speaking with artist Judy Endow over Skype. Below, you can see two paintings from Judy’s Blue-Green Leaves Collection that she discussed in our conversation. I have transcribed a section of our conversation below. Read on for some great insight on Judy’s visual perception!
Jill: Hi Judy. I’ve enjoyed looking at your artwork on your website. It has given me a sense of some elements of your visual perception. Can you tell me more about your visual perception?
Judy: The best way to describe it is that my visual perception is never exactly the same twice. I never know what I’m going to get from day to day. This means if I look out my window, I might see things as if I was looking at a picture of it. If I’m in sensory overload and I look out my window, then I might see that same picture, but with everything jagged or with lines running through it. Or things might be moving that aren’t supposed to be moving…sometimes the colors might be different.
I never know which flavor of different I will get. When I was little, I really didn’t know what that was…like my eyes playing tricks on me; I actually thought things looked that way – a different way each time I looked. I didn’t realize my visual perception was different from the stable visual perception of other people. And so I just didn’t know how it was that other people never acted surprised— like if things started moving, why weren’t other people getting dizzy? I didn’t realize that other people didn’t have a forever-changing visual perception of things they were seeing. In fact, I didn’t realize until my late 40s, early 50s that the way I was seeing was different.
If you think of it did it ever occur to you that what you see might not be what other people are seeing? You assume a shared perception. You assume what you are seeing is what everyone else is seeing. In fact, you probably don’t even think about it, but instead, it is simply an automatic assumption. We assume shared perception.
Jill: Can you share more about your sense of perception that inspired the five Blue-Green Leaves paintings you have featured on the website?
Judy: With Blue-Green Leaves I am looking at the same leaves five different times, and each time I pick up or perceive different detail. When I look at something, seeing the whole, I’ll lose the details. Then, when I go to look at the details, I can see that detail really well, but then I lose track of the whole. This means I might get entranced with the way the light is reflecting on a certain part of a whole picture, but then have no idea what the picture is anymore because I only see that light reflection.
It’s sometimes difficult to know what people want from me when they say something like, “Pay attention, focus!” Most of the time I already am paying attention and focusing, but if I am not focusing on the same thing you are focusing on then I won’t be picking up on the information that you think is important or relevant. I might be picking up something totally different.
Take the example of the painting called Magnified Leaves that shows one little part of the Blue-Green Leaves magnified really big. When I see that magnified part I lose track of the whole branch of leaves and just see that one specific little part. In addition, sometimes when I look at things the color will fracture into different pieces. My vision can bend a certain way so as to separate all of the different components of an original color. In Magnified Leaves, you’ll see entirely different, though similar, shades of greens and blues than you see in the Blue-Green Leaves Collection, and it’s because my eyes can separate that out. Also, in Magnified Leaves, you’ll see different patterns in the paint. I don’t know if you can tell on the website, but if you looked at the original you could clearly see what I am describing. If I had not told you, would you know that I was looking at the very same branch of leaves in 1st Blue-Green Leaves as I was looking at in Magnified Leaves?
Above: 1st Blue-Green Leaves by Judy Endow
Above: Magnified Leaves by Judy Endow
Judy: At times I can see different patterns in colors, too. Something I didn’t realize until a few years ago was another difference in my perception from other people’s perception is that when I see colors, I also can hear the sound of them and I can see the way the colors move. I didn’t realize that other people don’t have that experience. It explains all those times I have talked about the sound and movement of colors and people have looked at me funny and totally not understood what I was talking about. I now realize that other people do not share my perception!
Jill: I’m wearing turquoise today— my favorite color. Is there a sound you consistently associate with turquoise?
Judy: No, what happens is the sound and movement of colors are more …they’re not attached to stationary, stable colors. They are generated when people are interacting; there’s colors in the interaction that have sound and movement. I can tell by watching the colors when people are interacting whether or not the interaction is going well. I can get more information that way than from the meaning of spoken words.
Sometimes I’ll have a conversation with someone, and even though the words are making sense, the sound of the colors is really clashing so I know we’re not hitting it off in our conversation even if it seems ok. Other times I’ll be talking to someone, and the colors …the way their moving, it’s like one color will be trying to overtake another color. So then I can understand that the person’s words are being bossy. I don’t naturally pick up the hidden curriculum of social conversations, but I do understand much by watching the sound and the movement of colors generated as people talk with one another. Basically, I pick up information in a different way.
I think that’s very important thing to know because the majority of people pick up social information in a certain way and because that’s how they do it, and people with autism don’t do that way, we get sent to all kinds of social skill classes. We are taught how to do things in a neurotypical way. It is as if people assume because autistics don’t do it the NT way we have no other way of understanding interactions and we’re clueless. It’s just that some of us have alternative ways of perceiving information. I think nobody can support us to capitalize on our natural ways of perceiving the world around us because the neurotypical people are the support people we have and they don’t understand how we pick up information so they have no way to support it in us. Instead they tend to say, “Oh, you don’t do it the way I do. Let me teach you how!”
I think if we could understand how autistic people’s brains work we could support that, rather than saying, “Oh you need to jump over to my operating system and do it this way.” I understand why it is important for autistics to learn the NT (neurotypical) ways, but I wish people would understand it’s like imposing a second language on us.
If you learn a second language, you probably won’t think in that language, but you will have rudimentary skills so you can get along with others who speak that language. What’s going to happen over time, with only the rudimentary understanding, is you’re not going to be able to develop depth of a relationship with a person based only on using the basics of that second language. I think what happens with a lot of autistic people is that we’re expected to act like neurotypicals, but then because we do not have their mode of operation – our brains do business differently - we’re not often able to really have many meaningful relationships with other people. This happens because we’re not allowed to be who we are, but instead are expected to copy the ways of NT – the presumed “right way.”
Jill: I agree that there is a right for people to be able to think and communicate in their first neurological language. Thank you for sharing your insights with me, Judy. I look forward to following your work. I invite everyone to check out Judy’s artwork and website at http://www.judyendow.com.