The Savant Syndrome

The Savant Syndrome

The Savant Syndrome

intelligence

George Widener

George Widener is an autistic savant with the ability to perform incredibly complex calendar calculations in mere seconds. 

He can almost instantly determine the day of the week for any date in history or far in the future and has incredibly detailed knowledge historical events.

After a troubled and lonely childhood, George was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome and he found a release for the constant swarm of numbers in his head through art.

George now shows his richly detailed calendar art in galleries around the world. 

Cutting edge Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging is helping neurologists see how George's brain processes information differently than neurotypical brains.

Give George Widener any date in history and he can, within seconds, tell you what day of the week it was.

At his home in Asheville, North Carolina, George works into the night drawing elaborate calendars.

Before bed he reads, not a novel but, printed sheets of population figures.

Numbers follow George wherever he goes, he finds comfort in them, he considers them his friends.

George says no one ever taught him to calculate calendars. In fact, he insists he's not calculating at all.

George's skill is phenomenal, but it comes at a cost.

He suffers from a form of autism, a brain disorder that leads to awkwardness and social isolation.

As a child, school was a place of fear and dread, but a chance encounter at his grandmother's house when he was seven changed his life.

He met another child who was fascinated with his grandmother's calendar.

Today, George is perhaps the world's greatest calendar calculator, but he is not unique.

He belongs to a select group of people known as savants.



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Tommy McHugh

One of 12 kids in a large Irish family… Boxing… Prison… 

A thriving building firm… Junkie… Wives… Children… Friendships bitter and sweet… 

Being visited by Death, getting a headache and telling it to fuck off…

And then

A swirl, a fugue of events and experiences spiralling back and forward in time all meeting at one big bang moment when something split at a quantum level and Tommy the artist was born another life slipping anchor and heading to god knows where and when.

It’s not a life story I want to touch on here. 

Just my impression of Tom and his work. 

Tom as an artist and how, as an artist myself, I see us all fitting into this...

Faces

It’s all about the face, the face as representative of identity and loss of it. 

You see each of them fighting for attention in his busiest, more heated work—when he’s in that fever and they all peek their noses out to be seen. 

A mass of them but no confusion. I imagine it’s how a particularly harassed medium must feel all of those presences vying for attention as the séance is about to begin. 

But somehow, some way, out of the hustle bustle, there’s coherence of multiple identity… 

Then the single faces, the portraits he paints where one identity has grabbed him for that few moments it takes him to put the paint down. 

Peering out of the fog, lit up by sunlight, hiding but wanting to be seen.

And all these faces—is it just me or do I see Tommy’s high cheek bones in them? Self portraits of all the other quantum selves that flash through the perpetual motion machine that is Tommy’s creativity.

Alien landscapes

Over coffee recently Tommy told me it sometimes felt like he was walking through this life as if it's a constanty changing alien landscape. 

And that's part of the artistic experience I suppose. Always observing, always mystical and anthropological looking at the inner and the outer play of consciousness and actions coming and going and making of them what you will. 

I experience this to some degree. But with Tommy and his scuffle with death and the unleashing of his creative genie, unarbitered and free with Tommy this experience is intense and frighteningly out of control. I don't know how he copes. 

But he does as long as there's a brush and paint to magic the intensity away, or a lump of stone to carve...

Exhibitions

I first met Tommy some time ago, not too long after his double annoyance and the bursting of the dam.

I was just another person in an office and he'd come along for some help, some advice. 

Though he seemed to be doing OK without my help as a hindrance organising exhibitions of himself all over the Wirral. 

And it was only when I came to work at Neurosupport in Liverpool that our paths crossed again and now Tom's paintings hang in the atrium of the Neurosupport building and draw amazement and comment from everyone who sees them. 

Now, with documentaries about him, journalists and sundry seekers after the bizarre and remarkable interviewing him Tommy is something of celebrity, a one-man painting machine with one thing in his mind. 

To dispel a few myths, and open more than a few eyes...

Witch Doctors

I know that Tommy has sometimes felt more of a lab rat than an individual with a fascinating experience to relate. It seems the individual gets lost in the mechanistic world view of most 'specialists' and probers. 

Only Dr Alice W Flaherty of Harvard University (and author of the remarkable 'The Midnight Disease') has the insight and empathy to see what is happening: a chrysalis opened and a beautiful winged creativity emerged and changed one man's life in a miraculous way.

Future

I know Tommy doesn't dwell too much on the future he's far too busy creating and imagining in the present. 

But I hope this website gives us a glimpse into a future where the mystery of creation opens up before us and we see ourselves reflected back. 

Is there a Tommy McHugh in all of us? I hope so...



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Dane Bottino

Dane Bottino is a self-taught artist.

He started drawing when he was two years of age. 

He is autistic and lost his beginning language about the same age. 

He instead spent every waking moment drawing to express his emotions, desires and thoughts. 

Surprisingly, even at three years of age, he could draw with correct perspective and correct spelling, etc. 

He would give grocery lists of intricate and correct images of whatever he wanted. He has always been very obsessive and compulsive about his drawing.

For example, when he was young he would draw on whatever he could get his hands on: books, newspapers and telephone books. 

He would have a picture on every page, front and back. He would stay up all night until a series of pictures was complete. 

For example, early pictures were drawn over and over until he was pleased with the image and then he would not draw that subject again. 

Sometimes this process would include thousands of drawings on the same theme.

He has gone through periods on Dr. Seuss, imaginary animals, realistic animals, cartoons, etc. 

At fifteen years old he has basic functional language, yet he still chooses to communicate through art instead of common language.

Dane is very right brained and this rules the way he sees the world. 

Lately, he has done a series on the history of art, interpreting the following: cave art, Greek, Medieval, Renaissance, Impressionism, Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol, etc. 

Additionally, he has become interested in graphic arts and would like to create a web page to sell his art.

He has also shown a talent in music and has been found to have a perfect pitch. He can sing language and this might be an avenue for future expression. 

He can easily adjust his styles and seems to be expanding his creativity and horizons.

Dane has been on TV numerous times and has been filmed by the Discovery channel and the BBC. 

If you are interested in contacting him, you can email him. 

He is located in Southern California and exhibits on a regular basis. 

He sells his work and will have a recent piece in the UC Davis Mind Institute Gallery collection. 

He hopes to hear from you.

Video Dane Bottino
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