By Jack Gunthridge
I grew up not knowing I was on the autism spectrum. I knew I was a little bit different than everybody else, but they were seen as quirks. I actually attributed it to being born in the late 70s and being exposed to a mixture of the Village People, Culture Club, and Ronald Reagan in the White House as a small child. I figured a combination like that was enough to make anybody a little different. Even when I heard the stories about me zoning out to the point where I wouldn’t even answer to my name while listening to music was explained by teenage qualities in a two year old. My parents did get my hearing tested for that one. On the plus side, I probably learned language from the Beatles.
As I was growing up, my special interests were encouraged and never looked down upon. I loved the Muppets, so when I was six I was allowed to get up at 4:30 in the morning on a Sunday and watch reruns of The Muppet Show and then go back to bed. In the 90s, when everybody else my age was into Nirvana and movies like Pulp Fiction, I was watching silent movies and comedies from the 1930s-1950s and listening to oldies. It was somehow seen as all perfectly normal, even when my brother commented that I wasn’t really watching these older films for entertainment. I was studying them and not laughing.
What I do as an artist comes from these experiences and the encouragement I had as I was growing up. I own and operate my own studio because I learned from Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton the value of having artistic freedom. If I worked for somebody else, I would lose my voice as an autistic artist. That voice will be different, but it is not less than somebody else’s.
As an artist, autism is my greatest strength. Without a major studio backing me or anybody giving me money, I have my filmography listed on IMDB. My last feature film won Best Experimental at a film festival in Mumbai, India. My first novel had me being compared to J.D. Salinger. I’ve gotten fan mail from around the world telling me how important my words were to somebody else. The illustrations for my children’s books have gotten the attention of some people associated with a children’s book illustration museum. This comes from being autistic. My special interests give me determination and a will power to see things through. I might have a little of the so-called Asperger’s arrogance, but it gives me the confidence to try new things.
This doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with some things because of autism. I’ve learned to stop reading reviews. I’ve found that people either love me or don’t understand my work. I either get hailed a genius or get criticized for not doing something like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. I’m not comfortable being told how smart I am, especially when I am doing something that comes naturally to me. I don’t want to be seen as some sort of idiot savant. I also don’t like to be criticized just for being different and not following a pattern somebody has learned to expect. That’s not art.
I also have problems with social media and other social aspects of being an artist with autism. I often push myself outside my comfort zone when it comes to interacting with fans. I worry about responding to e-mails and letters in a proper way. How do you respond to somebody’s emotional response to your work when you have to process emotions on an intellectual level? I had a fan, who I think had a crush on me because of a love story I had written. We had been writing back and forth, then I disclosed my autism diagnosis. She stopped writing me after that.
As an artist, I don’t see autism as a bad thing. It has helped to grow my business and accomplish some of my greatest dreams because of the determination of a single vision. It has now given me an opportunity encourage other people with autism to follow their dreams and to help to tell parents, who are afraid of autism, that their child will be okay.
Jack Gunthridge was born August 8, 1978 in Salem, Missouri. He currently lives in Bowling Green, OH. He graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in Film Studies and Art History. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a double major in four and half years, which is better than most people that graduate as fifth or sixth year senior with only one degree. He spends his time with his family and his girlfriend, Heather, and her daughter. For more information, visit Jack’s website.