Tactile Communication

One of the photos of my brother captured him trying to get me to do something for him. He took my arm as if it was my handle, like some kind of teapot. I wrote a post about this occasion a back in September (2013). Mike is autistic, very low functioning and nonverbal. 

Since Mike doesn’t talk, he can’t tell me anything, least of all what he wants. Since he is low functioning and autistic, I think that he sees other people as objects. At least, that’s how he acts. It stands to reason therefore that if he wanted something that he couldn’t get for himself, he would make use the tools at his disposal. In the case described above, he used my arm as a tool.

Today’s study

In my recent gesture sketches, I have included the photograph from which the  hand gesture was excerpted. Today I purposely omitted the photograph. I ask the reader to look at the sketch below before looking at the photograph in the Arm as Tool post.

Watercolor sketch of one hand grasping another

Hand as Tool
10″x7″ 140# Rough Watercolor Block

I’m not certain what emotion, if any, this sketch evokes. I think the eye is attracted to the more-defined hand at first, when the entire image is viewed at once – this hand is also seen first when scrolling down a computer screen. The grasping hand is less defined, perhaps indicating action. At the very least, there is some kind of contrast or tension set up between the images of the hands.

I welcome any feedback about the sketch above, prior to seeing the photograph as well as after. Does your perception of the sketch change after viewing the photo? It has more information than what I excerpted. Would I need to include more in the sketch to get an emotional response?

As always, thank you for reading.

8 thoughts on “Tactile Communication

  1. I must admit that autism has not directly affected my life in any personal way,ie: family, so forth. I read your blog because I said I would. I must say I am fascinated by your writing and art and am a new fan. My son did some comedy shows before his death called “lol for autism” trying to raise money and awareness for the cause. I look forward to seeing more, bless you


    • Thank you so much, Greg. I read your post today, the one after Anger. Very touching and evoked many emotions.

      It sounds like your son had a great imagination and sense of humor. Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

      Thank you for your kind words about my blog. I appreciate that very much.




  2. Early studies of digital distance medical diagnostics, for instance in use by the USDVA (US Dept. Veterans Affairs), focused on “how much visual information do we need,” to be of use. There are confounding factors, such as, “of use for what?” and “which information”. I.e., color, b&w, number of pixels per inch, magnification, reference objects and context, and cognition of universal shapes.

    How much information we don’t need, is as important as the information we need. I did not look at the photograph. Many of your watercolorings are intensely emotional to us, especially those in contrast with icons of contrasting context (like the one above). Protective, active (but gentle) grasping. Comforted, almost relaxed and certainly accepting, sense of restraint. Apparently, in this hand, there is no shame knowing a lifetime of restraint from an external hand. — The Healing Garden gardener


  3. Hi Jack – I didn’t look at the photograph. I am really enjoying this new focus you have in relation to your brother. I am interested in art, and technique, but as you know I am a follower mostly as a parent looking for new perspectives and insights on autism. This study is powerful for me because it resonates so much with my experience of my son. I think it is called ‘motoric communication’ ? Dylan uses me as a tool in this way. One thing I have realised recently is that he doesn’t need to; usually he is more than capable of doing whatever it is himself. I have developed the idea that Dylan can use these needs as a way of making contact with me; if you are ‘non-verbal’ then the opportunities for communication are more limited. He can’t sit down and have a conversation with me. In this situation he likes to come to me with needs, even though often he could manage alone. If you overlay the possibility of that emotion it would perhaps change a gesture study to include ideas such as ‘touch me’ or ‘let me touch you’ or ‘just checking’ or ‘are you still there?’. Thank you – another interesting post! Liz


  4. That’s very interesting. Not having looked at a photograph and without other context, I presumed it was the other way around: you were grasping Mike’s hand. This context of who’s hand belongs to whom in this watercoloring, and in context of other watercolorings you have posted in the iconography series, is ambiguous. Knowing I may be mistaken in applying individual identity to a hand does not diminish the icon or character of its expression for me, thanks to its treatment in watercolors. The ambiguity lends dimension. — THGg


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