Matsuzawa Art Workshop

This art workshop creates art on a daily basis with a focus on paintings but also sculpture, plastics, cut outs, handicrafts design, and other art projects. The lessons appeal to a wide range of students from adults to children, able-bodied or disabled. Students audaciously share the worktable with mentally challenged students, recognizing each other’s talents, striving to learn in as natural a setting as possible and honing all of these qualities while developing their art skills.

Sawako Kido

【Kido gives a lecture and slide show titled – Untold Potential : A portrait on the path of the Artist Kosuke Ota.】

※This article is on the growth of Kosuke Ota as an artist at the Matsuzawa Art Workshop. The article was taken from The Art Journal, Vol.60.

The Art Journal Magazine edition:Focusing on the artist,Aim for fulfillment in society. By Sawako Kido Painter/Artist/Instructor,Affiliations as follows:Asian Artists Federation:Member,
Rome Artists Association:Honorary member,Nika Association: Attaché member,Matsuzawa Arts & Crafts workshop:CEO,Communication Art Group: Founder/Assistant,Awards: Nikka Exhibition 90th Commemorative Prize & others

Sawako Kido is the creator of the acclaimed aquifer series of paintings – an abstract vision of the origins of the innermost depths of the human psyche. As an art instructor, she has played an instrumental role in successfully mentoring students with severe mental challenges. At her home in Fukuoka, Japan, she lectures us on her art activities and her experiences mentoring students.

Lecture Series: Bringing to Fruition our Latent Abilities

Date: Feb. 22nd, 23rd (Sat/ Sun) 2009.
Place: Madokapia Cultural Center, Onojo City Fukuoka Prefecture Japan.
Topic: Kosuke Ota: A Portrait on the path of the Artist
Speaker: Sawako Kido

I’m Sawako Kido, founder of the Matsuzawa Art workshop. It’s my pleasure to be here today to give you a first-hand account on the path taken by Kosuke Ota as an Artist.
Today I’ll talk about art as a vital form of expression for the challenged. Among mentally challenged individuals, there are some more skilled at oral expression and others less so endowed. In the latter case expressing ones ideas verbally can be labor intensive. I believe that such individuals instead often find their niche to self-expression through music or art. At my workshop in Onojo City, I use a strategy of communicating through art.
I use painting, clay working, paper cut out techniques and other such media to foster creativity and imaginative works. Kosuke’s main means of expression has been through the creation of paintings. His mother has noted that his panic attacks have considerably declined since he has started painting. This is an inverse relation. His increased ability to express his inner most ideas and feelings have brought calm and inner peace and decreased his penchant to panic. In life we sometimes have persistent thoughts or we are vexed by negative experiences. We have this deep seated desire to elucidate on how we feel and extricate those ideas and emotions from our psyche; to purge them from our system and make them concrete and clear. An effective way of doing this is to express those ideas or feelings into art. We draw, sing, and compose, healing our minds and returning to homeostasis in daily life. I therefore believe there is ample room for using art as a strategy for communication in our lives.


Kosuke has astonishing memory skills. He had, for instance, completely memorized our annual class schedule. Here I am trying to remember if we have a class and I find myself relying on him to let me know our class days. Another autistic student in the class has memorized the order of the books on my bookshelf…all of them! One day after I was reading from my library, pulling books out and strewing them all over the floor, I put them back on the book shelf randomly without thinking. This student promptly reminded me which books were out of order, misplaced or missing from the bookshelf. That’s just one example of the kind of ordered, photographic memory some autistic students possess. As a result of these experiences I came to the conclusion that intellectual ability and memory recall may be distinct from one another. Often the autistic student’s lucidity of memory can be detrimental. Negative experiences and thoughts seem to stay fresh and seem to be all the harder for these students to let go of, especially if those memories are strong or fixed.
Most people normally have an ability to sift through and let go of painful memories.
Often with the autistic, rather than such memories just fading away with time, some catalyst in their daily life may bring back those thoughts, sparking off a panic attack.
This is an important reason why I sense we need a better understanding of the particular needs of the mentally challenged.

Many people are surprised to learn that from the start Kosuke Ota, an individual with heavy autism, showed total disinterest in learning art. Furthermore he was unable to sit still for more than 5 minutes at a time, nor adequately able to communicate orally.

My approach for teaching him evolved in the following manner:
I relied on trial and error as a lesson strategy
I learned to trust my instincts and be patient.
I recognized the importance of practice through constant repetition and review.
During the first three years I kept repeating the basics.
I began to observe clear signs of improvement after five years.
I used his interests, for instance the “Power Rangers” action figures, as a catalyst for teaching him to enjoy art.

Kosuke first came to my workshop when he was in the fifth grade. At the time he was unable to sit still in my class for much less than even five minutes. Furthermore he was barely able to communicate with me orally. He consistently kept walking and milling around for the duration of the lesson.
For instance, I would tell him, “Do you want to do something today?” To which he would just repeat back to me in parrot-like fashion “Do you want to do something today?” Every single thing I said would just be repeated back to me in echolalia. I decided to invite his mom to look in on the lesson, and pondered on how difficult it would be for her to watch as these strange antics played out in front of her, but I was surprised at her reaction. Rather than taking him home, she pleaded with me to persist and let him continue participating in the class. With a fair amount of reticence I grudgingly agreed. At this point I have to just say honestly, that I had absolutely no confidence things could ever work out successfully given the circumstances. First off, I thought, I’m an art instructor. I’m not a social worker and I’m not certified to do that sort of work. Furthermore, I’ve had absolutely no experience working with challenged students whatsoever. I honestly sat down at loss with myself and in despair for a good week, trying to think how in the world I was going to accomplish teaching him art? Regardless, I was moved by the look of sincerity in Kosuke’s Mother’s eyes at the time, and like someone groping in the dark, without manual or guidebook, I decided to see what it was that could be done. As a starting point, I asked his mother to inform me on his interests; to simply tell me the kinds of things he liked, and on that note we started the art lessons.

Kosuke was really captivated by the Power Ranger TV show and action figures. He loved the color schemes of the character’s uniforms, especially the reds, whites, yellows, blues and greens. He also liked playing with clay at home. So I decided to combine those two interests. I asked him if he’d like to make the Power Ranger action figures out of paper clay. He’d never painted on paper clay before (neither had I for that matter). So half jokingly I said “when the paper clay has dried, how about we paint it red, yellow and blue?” He answered me with a simple “yes”. So in this way, for the first time, I succeeded in getting him to use the paints and other art materials at hand. This was the first time I felt the possibility of being able to guide him into participating in the activities at the workshop.

Drawing from sight

For the first three years Kosuke could never draw from sight. I would place an orange on the table but he couldn’t draw it. Many people look at his paintings nowadays and often ask me whether he was a natural at art. We often hear about the savant autistic’s genius capability. So that means he was talented from the outset, right? This couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, it was exactly the opposite. At the outset, he was the least able to draw of all students in the workshop.
To deal in such cases where students were unable to do a freehand drawing of an inanimate object I had the following strategy: I would ask the student to first draw the outline of the object with a thick brush in order to reinforce necessary drawing skills. Persons unaccustomed to drawing will usually draw thin, weak lines when asked to. So this was the start…and the goal, drawing outlines of things in strong thick lines from start to finish. As with all other students, I made him draw strong, straight, thick lines in color pencil. For Kosuke, who understands visual cues better than words, a picture is worth a thousand words. At the time, Kosuke seemed virtually unable to follow oral instructions. However, if you drew something down on paper he understood. So, I would draw to show him what I wanted him to do, and in this way too, drawing became the requisite tool for communication of instructions.
In the spaces in between the lines that Kosuke had drawn by color pencil, I told him to “color this in, in red. OK. Next over here” and I let him choose whatever color he liked to fill in between the lines. Large spaces, small spaces, he colored them all in, in his own unique way.
Then after practicing drawing lines, we started practicing drawing circles. I told Kosuke, “Anyway, just keep drawing and go round and round and let’s just draw all kinds of circles, even scribbles are OK. Keep on drawing round and round, then, color in all the circles you’ve drawn.” And then right where two circles intersected and he mixed red and blue…purple appeared. Then we did the same with paints. Where two colors intersected, a new, different hue of color appeared and … it was interesting!

I also drew triangles and pointed to them by visual cues and in this way he learned to draw triangles too. We drew lines, then circles, then triangles and squares. Kosuke would draw parallel lines, and close them off, making squares. So now, he could draw circles, triangles and squares. Once you can draw straight lines and these three basic shapes…any and all drawings can be done. For instance, let’s simply imagine; you can draw eyes round, a nose as a triangle, and a head is drawn as a circle but slightly oval. All things, all objects, can be simplified into these basic shapes: circular, triangular, square-shaped and straight lines. And so it was that Kosuke practiced these simple forms for 3 years. It was really like starting from crawling on all fours, but it progressed to the point of acquiring the necessary skills and foundations for drawing. Then, suddenly one day, he was able to freehand draw in detail, an object at sight. This first, is the image of the tulip, shown on the right.
Picture #1
I often feel that people are in some ways like water. We have a boiling point in the sense that if you labor at something intensely and long enough you’ll reach the point where you’ll boil over and eventually reach your goal. That’s why I believe that from the outset it’s vital to stop saying things like, “this child isn’t cut out for drawing” etc, and instead just keep at it, drawing on and on, believing and waiting for the day that you’ll be able to draw it. It might sound a bit clichéd, but it’s true.
So the lessons were done like this at the start. We just practiced doing the basics backwards and forwards, and over and over again.

Kosuke becomes more popular with his peers at school

After attending the workshop for five years, during summer vacation, Kosuke drew a picture of some fish for the first time. He drew a Globefish and a Filefish. His junior high homeroom teacher saw them and had Kosuke enter the drawings into a contest. Those drawings won a humungous prize: The Uminonakamichi Marine Life Drawing Contest Fukuoka Prefectural Education Committee Prize. As a result of receiving this award, he earned the praise of his classmates at school, who exclaimed “Way to go, Kosuke!!” for the first time, making him feel an integral part of his class.
Such a praiseworthy showing from his classmates imbued Kosuke with confidence and faith in his ability and skills at painting, and was a significant morale booster. So in this way and at this time in his life, he benefited greatly by the influence and praises of his peers.

Love and Support at Home
Picture #2

Kosuke has also benefitted from the undivided love and attention provided him at home. This is an important basic requirement factoring in his success. Children who are abused when growing up often wither away. Kosuke’s parents gave him a substantial amount of TLC while growing up. On one occasion when his siblings were out, his Dad even told him unpretentiously that he was their favorite. Such was the degree to which he was nurtured within an agreeable and supportive home environment.

Tackling the issues on the home front

With the help and cooperation of his siblings, and his elder sister’s friend, Kosuke was able to cope with the many challenges facing him. His siblings took time out to patiently help him acquire the basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills. His mother worked, so when she was out during the day, Kosuke’s elder sister’s friend, who at the time was training to be a social worker, tutored Kosuke in those subjects. She drilled him in basic math and Japanese characters and took him out around town, by public transport, on shopping trips and to learn the ropes of daily life. As a result of these varied experiences he is able to write his name as well as use Japanese characters extensively and has also developed valuable and practical social skills.
Picture #3
He now shops and commutes on his own and gets around everywhere by public transportation. These are all skills nurtured at home without which he would not have been able to have a normal life. His parents even asked his teachers to have Kosuke do his homework while commuting to and from school on public transport. In this way, step by step, and in detail, Kosuke learned valuable life skills at home that would procure him a measure of independence. In retrospect I feel that the sum of all these efforts have helped him acquire life skills that have positively impacted his present life.

The Dormitory Experience

Kosuke benefited by his experience of living away from home. Through this experiment of personal independence, he was able to foster friendship, mutual respect and self improvement. Kosuke was in many ways considered a “guest” in school. He couldn’t understand his studies and mostly sat quietly and was helped along by those around him. It was at this point that he began attending the Chikugo High School for disability-challenged students. Here he lived in a dorm, away from the nurturing influence of his family. The instructors at this school were at times strict and at times lenient with the students. They taught Kosuke cooking, cleaning, ironing, and how to do laundry. Clean-up time included meticulous cleaning of the bathtub among other things.
Picture #4
Kosuke’s elementary through junior high school life was one in which his peers would make exception to his disability, currying favor to him without the slightest complaint or incident. Yet here, with six roommates per dorm there sometimes grew occasion for spats and quarrels. This was a major eye opener for Kosuke who had always felt those around him care and pamper him. Here he experienced the basics of personal care and independence. He became accustomed to interactions with others on equal terms. The net result of this experience was that he matured. Kosuke’s parents have conceded that his leaving the house was a major watershed in his life. As a result, a very substantial change appeared in his artwork. It became very strong, filled with his desire for life and living, and was literally spilling out of the canvas. This is another proof that convinces me that one’s life experiences come out on to the canvas.

Art as a Pillar of Strength for Living

The wonder of life fills the canvas with pleasure for all to enjoy.

For Kosuke, this experience of living independently caused there to come forth works filled with great enthusiasm for life and living. Many people say that when they look at his works, they are inspired to feel spirited and well. This is surely a reason why his art is increasing in popularity recently. I’d like to now present you with a slide show on his works.

[Picture #1]
This work, done at around the age of thirteen, was when he was still unable to paint objects on sight in detail. It’s drawn in color pencil only. It is still interesting even as an abstract work.

[Picture #2]
This is the first object he reproduced on sight that I mentioned previously, note the space colored in between the tulips. At the time he was using paint straight out of the tubes without yet mixing any colors.

[Picture #3]
This is the aforementioned picture titled “fish”, of the Filefish on top and the Globefish on the bottom. We often stew Globefish or Filefish at home. I have to admit to this day, I’ve never seen any as vivid as these two in any of my culinary experiences. When Kosuke paints, this is the way things look. It’s an incredibly interesting work, I believe.

[Picture #4]
After turning sixteen he drew a fresh water striped turtle that I kept as a pet at my home. The actual turtle has fine yellow lines and some red on the side of its ears. His drawing shows his own strong impression and inspiration of those traits. The actual turtle is incredibly monochromatic, a dark dullish gray black. This work resulted in the yellow stripes and the red highlighting the turtle in almost its entirety.

[Picture #5 Tropical Fruit]
This work is titled “Tropical Fruit.” A long lanky white outline encloses a mango. The green objects on the right side are bananas. He has made them green. The fruit in the center is actually slightly yellow in reality. He has done it in pink. This work was so interesting I entered it into the “Wonder Art” contest where it won Best Four Prize and was featured in the Daido Insurance Company’s corporate journal.

[Picture #6]
This is a picture of a blue crab. In reality, the blue crab has a dark brown carapace. It is purple or light blue at the tips of the legs. Kosuke paints it various colors; yellow, and pink, with the carapace in green very colorfully done. When the director of the Fukuoka Art Museum saw this work, he thought it was fantastic and asked for it and one more work to be shown at the upcoming exhibition on naïf art.
Kosuke’s two works were exhibited at the same exhibition with Picasso’s and Taro Okamoto, and right next to Yayoi Kusama’s works. Despite being surrounded by so many greats, Kosuke’s paintings projected their own unique existential quality and were not just viewed in the favored light of the neighboring works. I thought his paintings stood out distinctly and were not at all overshadowed by any of the other works on display.

[Picture #7]
This is the other work that was entered in the same exhibition. When Kosuke started out he could barely sit still for five minutes and yet now he could concentrate on a dime and churn out a work of art during a two hour lesson. This painting entitled “Prawn” was first drawn in watercolors using disposable chopsticks as a pen, then painted over in water colors and finished. The actual shrimp is brown in color, plain and lacking luster. However Kosuke draws the shrimp in vivid colors with the tips of their legs painted in a pretty red color. It is really an excellent work. The scale and proportions for the drawing are also very good.

[Picture #8]
This work was also drawn around the same time. This is a tropical blowfish native to Okinawa. Once, when I travelled to Okinawa, I brought back some tropical sea shells as souvenirs. Those were the basis for the motif used by Kosuke in this work. Again, the actual colors of the shells are much less vivid in reality. As always, Kosuke seems to endow his paintings a more lustrous tone.

[Picture #9]
This was done by Kosuke at the age of twenty. It was his first cut out artwork. This is of a daffodil and Matrioshka (traditional Russian doll). Actually, cut out art can be extremely difficult and tedious. First you have to draw a rough outline. On the bottom of that you glue a dark relief paper and then with a utility knife you cut out the outline along with this black base. After that you place a colored paper backing on it and repeat the cutting procedure. All in all, it takes about three times longer than your usual drawings would take. Kosuke always works at cut out art with the utmost in care and precision. While working on this one, he accidently tore the Matrioshka’s eye. I should have paid more attention to him at the time. To my dismay, Kosuke put the artwork down and immediately left for home. Apparently he did not take too well to this episode and upon arriving back home, broke down and wept inconsolably, all the while proclaiming his disdain at having torn the Matrioshka’s eye. However, upon returning for his next lesson, I immediately showed him a small trick to affect an easy repair on the Matrioshka and he recovered his composure at once. On this occasion he had panicked. However, once he learned how easy it was to make repairs, he conquered his tendency to panic and began to demonstrate a lasting sort of flexibility of mind in these types of situations. This work is a legacy to his emotional growth at the time.

[Picture #10]
To celebrate Kosuke’s twentieth Birthday we held a private exhibition. Since twenty years is a milestone of sorts, we discussed trying something new. I suggested he create a work in acrylics and he agreed enthusiastically. He created his first work in acrylics. It’s easy just to keep doing what you’re use to and where for most people starting something new is somewhat of a challenge, for most autistic persons, trying something new can be immensely agitating and a daunting source of distress.
Working in acrylics is always a challenge especially because the order of operations is opposite that of what you perform when working in watercolors. For instance, backgrounds are often colored very darkly and then lighter colors are placed on top of the darker colors. Even after that, layer upon layer of colors must be repeatedly drawn over each other, again and again. Also, you sometimes need to polish your topical layers. Such are the requirements in procedure, none of which Kosuke had ever encountered during the creation of any of his works up until that time. In fact, during his first acrylic work, I got a call from his mother asking me whether it was worthwhile putting him under such stress. She urged me to put an end to the acrylic lessons and suggested we return to watercolors. This time I didn’t give in so easily. I told her that he had come this far and that I wanted him to discover the pleasure and satisfaction of working in acrylics. So we agreed that he would continue to make a bit more of an effort. He fought on, devoid of my praises, crying all the while. This work was his first in the acrylics medium. It’s an African mask of the Songye Tribe. It was the product of an immense amount of time and labor on his part, but in the end the result was worth the while as I believe it is a very ambitious work. The actual mask it was modeled on is a relief sculpture with a riveted surface carved out by knife. The result of the completion of this work for Kosuke was an unwavering confidence in working with acrylics. Upon completing this work he exclaimed, ”Ahhh! I did it! I’ll do more now!”

[Picture #11]
Kosuke’s second work in acrylics was this work, titled “Two African Statuettes”, frankly portraying two figurines in an interesting pose. The background is vividly colored in a style uniquely his. I was deeply impressed as I felt that only Kosuke could ever paint it in this vivacious way.

[Picture #12]
At the age of twenty three he became ever more adept at working in acrylics. He began choosing the types of works he wanted to undertake, telling me which kind of works he wanted to do and so forth, and embarking upon them on his own. The motif for this work in particular was a twin figurine souvenir from Taiwan. However, he adorned it by drawing the two figures surrounded by banana trees. It is strikingly colored. Someone saw it and recommended it for the front cover of the National Cultural Festival program guide. It became the cover picture for that publication. The work was subsequently donated to the Fukuoka Amicus Center: Gender Participation in Society and Human Rights Promotion exhibit as a highly esteemed symbol of harmony; two persons hand in hand.

[Picture #13]
This is of an Asian elephant. It was done by Kosuke for a private exhibition on the occasion of his twenty-fifth birthday celebration. Someone from the children’s hospital saw it and asked if they could purchase the work. They explained that they thought it could make the kids at the hospital feel much better. Upon hearing of this, Kosuke’s mother suggested the work be donated to the children’s hospital as it was for “a good cause”. It was donated. To their dismay, many children under treatment or in recovery cannot attend school while in an extended stay at the hospital. The picture presently occupies the wall next to the notoriously disenchanting room where kids have to take their shots. Whenever they see this painting they are said to exclaim loudly, “wow! An elephant! ” Doctor’s at the children’s hospital have said that Kosuke’s painting mitigates the children’s emotions and they are tremendously thankful to him for its donation. Through this painting in particular, Kosuke would like children at the hospital to achieve a sense of hope.

[Picture #14]
Starting two years ago Kosuke has begun learning Calligraphy through a mentor with the goal of further expanding Kosuke’s potentials. This is an example. At the age of twenty seven Kosuke created his first work in Calligraphy for a circular. He was later invited as a guest artist to China to attend the Japan – China – Korea International Cultural Communication Exhibit for the Disability Challenged. He travelled to China along with his father. At the welcoming reception he was asked to write something in brush and ink. His father stood alongside while Kosuke took the brush and wrote, “Thank you.” What a pleasant surprise this was for me. He had clearly understood the context of the situation at hand and had responded in an expression of appreciation and protocol. I was impressed and delighted to hear of this episode. I was also overwhelmed by the realization of just how far he has come in life.

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    Picture #5
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    Picture #6
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    Picture #7
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    Picture #8
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    Picture #9
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    Picture #10
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    Picture #11
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    Picture #12
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    Picture #13
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    Picture #14
What we can learn from the disabled.

Living unfettered in mind

Kosuke is presently employed at Circle Studio, where he creates a variety of handcrafted items. There is another young man employed there by the name of Hiroki. As it happens Hiroki is learning to swim. One day Hiroki invited his classmates and colleagues at the Circle Studio to come out and cheer at his next swim meet. Kosuke, like everyone, was given a free ticket to attend. Unfortunately, the day of the swim meet, there was a hurricane. Due to very strong winds and heavy rain, no one came to watch. However, Kosuke unlike everyone, turned up at the meet, drenched to the skin and dripping wet, serious to the core about attending. Kosuke never breaks a promise or forgets an appointment, no matter what. So he came, in the middle of a hurricane…but came… nonetheless, to cheer Hiroki on. Prior to that episode, Hiroki had often shown a strong rivalry toward Kosuke. Whenever Kosuke held a private exhibition of works, Hiroki would say, “I won’t lose out to Kosuke. I’ll hold my own private exhibit too.” Since the day Kosuke appeared in the foulest of weather, soaked to the bone in order to watch Hiroki’s swim competition, something changed in Hiroki’s attitude. Hiroki began consistently praising Kosuke at length. Exclaiming “Kosuke this… and Kosuke that…” and on and on, etc. For Kosuke, who is now twenty seven, this was the budding of a friendship between Hiroki and himself. It has been said that the autistic are poor at interpersonal communication and that they have no use for friendship. Perhaps this is true. Yet, Kosuke was able to nurture such a relationship even at this later point in his life. His mother was perplexed at this occurrence. She pleasantly commented that if such a thing is possible at this point in his life, then the sky’s the limit. No matter how older one gets, there always seems to be room to grow. This was something that happened that all the textbooks said shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t always just blindly believe things just because they’re written in some book.
Another quality that Kosuke has acquired later in life is his unique sense when working with colors. In the beginning when I used to put paints and colored pencils on the floor of our workshop, he would only use the paint straight up out of the tubes. Later on, mixing colors became tremendously engaging to him, like the pleasure one feels in experimenting. It helps that Kosuke has no fixed ideas. He says things like, “I wonder what would happen if I mixed this and this?”, and then goes ahead and does it in a very frank and unassuming manner. Kosuke enjoys unrestricted freedom in choosing colors. He possesses longstanding, acute memory skills. He devises a spectrum of color schemes, then sorts and stores them in a processor like capacity into his memory.
The other day Tokyo Television came and filmed a report on Kosuke while he was absorbed in his artwork. They expressed particular curiosity at how he chose his colors and they looked on in profound and genuine interest. Kosuke playfully hummed a song while adeptly pulling out colors and choosing the ones he wanted in a matter of seconds. Then, as the final product neared completion…he turned out a work in a wonderful myriad of vigorous colors…of which he’s so proficient in the creation of … that we would need to have him teach us to be able to do likewise.

Kosuke’s series of works is published.

When Kosuke was twenty, he published his first complete series of works and at the age of twenty five he finished his first acrylic series. To publish one’s series of works may not be something particularly out of the ordinary once an artist reaches maturity, however in Kosuke’s case it is quite an astonishing accomplishment. From the very start…as I mentioned …he could not draw at all. I believe he persevered as he did, in part due to the appropriate support and cooperation granted him by his family and people in his entourage. These persons often banded together, pooling their resources, and their time and efforts. It is the results of this cooperation that ultimately crystallized into the publication of these series of works.
There can be no doubt that many families dealing with mentally challenged children struggle with a wide spectrum of issues in their child’s daily life. I would like the example of Kosuke’s life experience to inspire others with the hope that their child can also achieve some such level of personal satisfaction and success.
Also I would hope that they can acquire a similar support structure and garner the respect of those around them. I’d like more people to see that such a way of life is a possibility and not just the exception to the rule. Through effort and given undivided attention, someone who couldn’t draw at all could strive to become a success in the arts.
If you have a goal, that goal can be achieved. That is what I’d like to strongly underline today. For Kosuke, the pinnacle of his efforts came to fruition in the form of the publishing of his series. Prior to meeting Kosuke, I had a sort of bias where I thought that if someone was mentally challenged, you just accepted it. Their condition never improved. My experience with Kosuke has lifted off that cumbersome bias. I now know that given proper support and reassurance not only change but even remarkable change is possible. I witnessed, over time, such a formidable change divulge itself in front of me. I was also engaged with the sentiment that a meaningful transformation had occurred within his psyche. The same stands true for the other students. I have many mentally challenged students in my workshop these days. They have all made me realize how significantly the environmental experience can benefit the human being. Yes, indeed, the efforts have been absolutely worthwhile. The old adage that states, “never give up” is genuine. Continuity and reinforcement build strength and character. It may take time for whatever it is that you are undertaking but continuity is the key to success. I recently read the neuroscientist Kenichi Mogi’s bestseller on the brain. In it, he refers to the plasticity of the brain. This is the brain’s innate ability to compensate for damage, or a lacking in one area of the brain. When certain stimuli have been adequately reproduced, the corresponding neural pathways are equally so reinforced.
It would seem that the brain’s capability and penchant for plasticity is virtually non-static and without limits. Regardless of age, even if you start at sixty or seventy years old, if one keeps up the effort, the brain will form the corresponding neural pathways. It follows then, that a mentally challenged child actively applying themselves at some activity has the potential to affect significant changes within the brain’s neural pathways. I think we can call this the life experience potential. The crux of my argument then is that every person at least has the potential for improvement. Kosuke found his potential through the medium of painting and art. Not only has he matured greatly as a human being but at the same time, through his interactions and life experiences, his works have evolved remarkably. The benefits brought about by this overall synergistic effect are what I would like to emphasize and share with everyone.

Integration into greater society and living a normal life

This is how I define the word we call “normalization” in the Japanese language. Perhaps, I admit, it’s a tad strange to use the word “normal” because that begs the idea of deviance from a norm of standard in society, but here’s the point: Whether able bodied or disabled, living a life of contentment and satisfaction is how I define normalization. This happens by learning together, mutual recognition, and the ability to improve our natural interactions with each other. At present, the art workshop is a mixture of able bodied and disabled sitting side by side learning and creating works of art. Upon first observation of the class, the mother’s of able bodied children are often astonished at discovering this coeducational set up.
These days in my class, Kosuke now sits calmly working at his art. However, there are still some other students milling around the classroom or mumbling. Though new students are sometimes distracted by such disabled student’s mumblings and movements, they soon grow accustomed to the class atmosphere and no longer pay any heed to the distractions. On seeing the accomplished works of some of the disabled, many able-bodied students often express admiration. They comment on how they could never have thought of using such color schemes in such a particular way. They often exclaim covetously, “Why can’t I draw like that?” So there are aspects in artwork which the able bodied could never have imagined before and which they can learn from the mentally challenged. They later tell their mothers about how positively impressed they were by the art works of the challenged students in the class. This rubs off on their parents whose views and biases subsequently metamorphose into admiration and respect. Thus, the so called “normal” students enjoy this experience of learning art together and at the same time hold a deep seated esteem toward their mentally challenged peers. I, like most persons, also started out from this biased point of view. That has all changed through my experiences in the workshop. I have now come to the realization of the prejudices of my former mindset. To me, this has been the greatest gift I could ever foster through this experience. So in other words, don’t isolate yourself or your mind. Let’s work together to induce mutual understanding and positive recognition of our differences. That’s the kind of society I’d like to see.

Communication Art Activities

Mentally challenged children with Autism or Down- Syndrome are given support and helped to acquire the skills to gain economic independence and active participation in society via an outlet for producing handicraft items.
I began the activities for Art Communication in 2005 with chairperson Inoue upon finding out just how little remuneration persons with disabilities earned for their efforts. These days, can you guess how much people with such disabilities earn? I was curious one day and asked students that I taught how much they were earning. I was startled to find out that they would earn as little as 2000 yen a month ($25US).I asked another student, who told me that he earned 3000 yen ($38US) per month. Yes, this is the amount they earn…per month! They work morning until evening, a basic work day, for about 60 or 70cents per day. How in the world can anyone live on that? This realization was such a shock to me that I decided to do something. I felt that if I waited for local governments or officials to act, things would never start. So I thought, why not use their skills at painting and art. Have them make works for sale and all profits would go towards their remuneration. For example, they could sell one piece of art for 500 Yen ($6.30US). If they sold ten pieces, then they could earn 5000Yen ($63US). They could set their goal, for instance, at earning 10,000Yen ($125US) per month. Each individual creates a work of art, sells it, and all proceedings go to the artist in question. This is an example of one of the activities now brought about to help them become more financially viable.
Many challenged individuals also have a hard time in public school. Regardless of the nature of the difficulties they are having at school, we want to show them that they have a place, a physical space, where they can feel comfortable and safe and make friends. I also work with student’s parents in order to better manage such facilities and activities.
Recently, at one of these lectures, I was spoken to by a mother of a child with a heavy mental disability. She mentioned how she never ceases worrying and lacks hope for the future of her child. I responded to her comments by saying she should consider her child as an artist still in the shell at this point in time. She later told me that after hearing that piece of advice she felt excitement and hope at future prospects. When hope is generated in the parents in that manner, that feeling is passed on to their children. I really believe this to be of paramount importance. This positive feedback serves to further motivate my activities.

Ota Kosuke and Kido Sawako

Picture : Kosuke Ota. Despite a very heavy autistic disability, the patient guidance of Ms. Kido and the love and support of his family has enabled him to grow into his own as an artist.
Autism was coined by the American psychiatrist Leo Kanner in 1943 to describe the similarly named spectrum of child mental disorders. The cause of the disorder is widely thought to be concomitant with damage to certain areas in the central nervous system. Symptoms differ per individual case. Generally speaking, autism is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, impaired or slowed language acquisition, and strong tendencies toward methodical, repetitive behavior. The ability to interact on a social level is often difficult with the autistic. Yet, with the cooperation of those around them, symptoms decrease and there is a general improvement with age. Although intellectual development is stymied, 20% of autistic children show no signs of being slow and 10% of autistic children show remarkably high intellectual abilities. Also, generally speaking, the autistic show strong memory related skills.

Front row from right: Ms. Kido, Kosuke Ota, Kosuke's parents. Back row: Students at the Matsuzawa Art Workshop.
Normalization as a path to social interaction

The day after the lecture we dropped by the Matsuzawa Art Workshop run by Ms. Kido in Onojo City, Fukuoka Prefecture. Here, we came upon students, able bodied and disabled, busily at work on their art projects in a relaxed atmosphere. We could not even sense an inkling of difference with any other art class we’ve seen elsewhere. We reported for an article in our journal titled, “Art and Human Potential” all the while sensing the unwavering guidance and power of positive thinking imbued by Ms.Kido.

Interview with Sawako Kido

Q) When did you begin to acquire a love of art?

“I was born liking art. I started drawing at age two. I think it’s just in my nature, in my DNA so to speak. My grandmother on my mother’s side was a painter of traditional Japanese art and I still remember seeing a picture on the wall of a peacock flapping its wings while landing. My mother also enjoyed viewing art, so she often took my elder sister and me to the art museum. So, it was at a very young age that I could see paintings by the great masters, none of whom I had the slightest notion of at the time.
I think that this had a lasting effect on my mind. I believe I must have been about four or five years old when I decided that what I wanted to do in the future was to paint pictures.
My parents made my sister study hard for school, since she was the eldest. I was told to stop being a nuisance to my sister while she studied. To stop me from pestering her, they made me draw pictures. So suddenly, scribbling down things and graffiti became second nature to me and helped my parents to get me out of their hair as well. Soon I grew up drawing. My dad on the other hand, was a kind of science oriented guy, one of those persons who had no experience or understanding of art whatsoever. I also liked science though. I still do. I read a lot of books on neuroscience and still do a lot of such reading today. Leonardo da Vinci is a good example of someone who I admire. Science and art are compatible in my view. Science reveals the mystery in the things we observe. I wanted to take the path of science initially and so I took a lot of science courses in high school. However, I couldn’t stop painting and drawing. I believe I love drawing from the very depth of my being. When I told my parents that I wanted to be an artist, the decision was met with opposition…initially. Yet I persevered in both my conviction and path during these trying times, in part because of my love for art which was buoying and nurturing me at these important crossroads.

(This interview article continue on next page)

Water vein Ⅱ

Interview with Sawako Kido

Q) When did you start being interested in primitive art?

It all started twenty years ago when I visited Okinawa. I was taken in by Okinawa culture. Upon discovering the culture of Okinawa, my interests began panning toward South East Asia and Oceania as well. Finally I came upon African culture. The evolution and broadening of my personal interests had a distinct influence on my work. Until then, my focus had mainly been on European art. Another influencing factor was when I was expecting my eldest son. Often during the pregnancy I experienced a remarkable sense of positivity and power, emanating from my womb, the likes of which I had never felt before. Since that time my works have been characterized by various local customs and naïfs.

Q) Is it true that your water vein series of works occurred in response to the caring for and subsequent passing away of your parents.

Yes. The passing of my mother was indeed the catalyst. In those works, my personal inner world is likened to an aquifer deep under the ground. At the time, I began to ponder deeply on that which is in us but remains unseen, deeply ensconced in the subconscious. I tried hard to visualize how that might look embodied into a painting. While at work on this, I thought of heredity, of our bloodline passed down through the generations from time immemorial. Not just mine, everyone’s. I thought about how our lives have been decisively shaped by persons around us, the places we live, the ecology, and the atmosphere. In my case, I thought about my parents, Kyushu, and the physical environment of Okinawa, for these have been the shaping factors in my life. The source of life is akin to a subterranean water vein that deeply links our sense of self, in the waters on the surface, to its origins in the waters of the water vein below ground. I found though, that no matter how many times I drew, over and over again, I was unable to embody or express that sensation or idea clearly enough. So I kept painting on. At the onset I had no intention of creating a series of works but because of the ambiguity in expressing my sentiments accurately, there engendered in me a lack of a sense of closure. This caused me to paint on and on, resulting inevitably into a series of works.

Q) Have you got future plans for any other exhibitions?

With the aquifer series these last few years I’ve been focusing mainly introspectively on such abstract themes, groping and fumbling about in a non- descript fashion, to express my ideas and words into paintings. Having run that gauntlet of soul searching, I’ve been itching to focus my attention once again on drawing objects in the outside world. Now that I’m done with the soul searching, I’m confident that this time round I’ll come out with a fresh new perspective on everything. I’ll start by doing some works of my summer trip to Zamami in Okinawa and show them together with some of my daughter’s works at a joint exhibition. How far I’ll go in this next adventure is still uncharted territory but I’m up to the challenge.

February 22nd to 23rd, 2009.
Article by Hirotaka Fujita
Project Planning Division
Art Journal CO., LTD.
Translation by John Paul Bartolini

Water vein Ⅴ

Water vein Ⅶ

Water vein Ⅷ