|A drawing of my son...|
"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter." --Oscar Wilde
I "officially" started this art project in April of 2011. When I started, I had only two pieces completed. Both of them were about my own son. One of them was completed just a few short months after Derek was diagnosed. It was my way of coping with everything I was feeling. I didn't know any other autistic children. When I started meeting other families, I literally had to beg them to join the project and let me do portraits of their kids. The first kid I met was a boy named Aiden. I thought he was adorable from the start. He was only a couple of months younger than Derek. They had similar traits (they both liked to spin the wheels of cars), yet they were sooooo different---and it fascinated me. Luckily, his family lives only 30 minutes away, so I see Aiden and his family often. I've become good friends with his mom and I love seeing the progress he's made.
|Derek, me and Aiden at the pool.|
The kids in this project are not just "artwork" to me. And I've never considered the portraits a "job." These kids are real, live people. I have met many of them in person. Some of the kids have been referred to me by friends and relatives. Some I have met through other blogs. But most of them, especially the ones who joined the project in the very beginning, I consider extended family. You have to understand, I have been talking to the parents and following these kids for almost 3 years now. I don't stop talking to their families once the portraits are done. We stay in touch. I have celebrated first words and potty-training victories right along with the families. I have watched the kids graduate from preschool. I have cried with the parents during medical procedures and dental appointments and IEP meetings. I've cried even more when I found out a sibling protected their brother or sister from a bully or a friend held a hand on a field trip. The way I see it--we are all in this together. And if you can't laugh and cry and celebrate together, than this journey is going to be awfully long.
As most of you know, all I have ever wanted to do with this project is show the world how I see autism: as something beautiful. Yes, it is difficult and there are days when I want to throw in the towel. If I wanted to show the world the ugly side of autism I could make prints about meltdowns and head-banging and the like. But, I am not ashamed of my son and never will be. Yes, autism can be hard. But it is also incredible. My son makes me laugh every single day. He is amazing. So are all of the kids in this project. They deserve to be portrayed as such.
This project has grown to almost 50 kids. FIFTY. That's way bigger than I originally intended. (I'm thinking about making 50 the cut-off mark. 50 is a nice, even number, right? I'll have my work cut out for me for at least another 2 years or so.)
Ok, so why am I telling you all of this?
Because unless I am horribly mistaken, someone tried to pretend that my artwork was hers. We are talking plagiarism, folks. I'm saying that I think someone used my blog and my facebook page and my gmail account to say that my artwork was hers for a college class. I don't really know how this could have happened, but people get away with all kinds of crazy stuff online these days.
I'll tell you what I know.
I received a bunch of very strange emails to my autism art project gmail account in the past few months, addressed to another person. (I didn't open them originally, because I thought they were spam.)
All of the emails came from the same university. One came from the school's alumni foundation. One came from a specific teacher and had an attached document with an actual grade for an independent studies class that the woman (I?) had taken. She got a B in the class (what's up with that???) I even had a blank email from the woman herself, and I'm guessing she sent it to my gmail to either a) confirm that it was her account or b) see if I even checked that email account anymore.
Oh, and according to that document, it wasn't just a Bachelor's Degree that the girl was getting her degree in. It was a Master's of Arts Degree, which means she had to have some talent to get as far as she did.
I have emailed the college four separate times in the past few months to find out what is being done in regards to the possibility that the woman plagiarized me. I received only one email back, saying the following:
This is to confirm that I received your email on Tuesday and I have forwarded it to The Senior Tutor for further investigation. I can assure you that we are taking this matter very seriously. I will contact you with the outcome of the investigation as soon as possible.
This was on November 28, 2013. An investigation shouldn't take two months. I don't know what else I can do. (Probably nothing.) Obviously, the school doesn't think it's as big of a deal as I do.
These kids matter to me. They are my life. Autism is my life. I've been eating, sleeping, breathing it for over 4 years now. It's all I think about most days. So, someone tried to pretend my artwork was hers. Big deal, right? People keep telling me it's a compliment. No. Just, no. Maybe it seems that way to some. But I keep thinking about the kids. I don't know if this other woman has an autistic child or not. Or if she's even been affected by autism at all. I don't know her.
But I find it highly insulting to think that someone who might know nothing about autism at all could pretend to do a project like this.
When someone steals artwork, it is not like stealing a television or a car. This type of robbery makes you feel very vulnerable and exposed, because they are not just simply stealing paint that has dried on a canvas. They are stealing your expression and your view of the world. I communicate my thoughts and feelings through my art. A tiny piece of myself goes into every portrait. These kids fill me with hope and inspiration, because most of them have overcome more in just a few short years than I ever will. My hope is that people who know nothing about autism will see my pieces in a gallery and it will open their eyes just a tiny bit.
Plagiarism is real. It is alive and well. And when it happens to you, it hurts.