Pragmatic Aesthetics and the Autistic Artist

Publication Title

Journal of Aesthetic Education

Publication Date

Winter 2012

Document Type





aesthetics, theories, artists, visual arts, autism, pervasive developmental disorders, theory of mind, executive function, imagination


Art and Design | Bioethics and Medical Ethics | Communication Sciences and Disorders | Other Philosophy | Philosophy


There are many prominent examples of artists with autism. However, even when confronted with evidence of these accomplished autistic savants, pragmatic aesthetic theories cannot adequately account for the work of these accomplished artists as artists. This article first examines the nature of autism and explores a prominent psychological theory that purports to explain autistic symptoms. This prominent theory, the theory of mind thesis, holds that autistic symptoms are the result of the failure of persons with autism to make certain types of secondorder propositional attitude attributions. Second, the article describes the work of three visual artists with autism. There can be no doubt that these individuals are in fact artists. Third, the article examines pragmatic aesthetic theory and demonstrates why the pragmatic theory fails to adequately account for the accomplishment of autistic artists. The unique psychological deficits that characterize autism present a challenge to pragmatic aesthetic theories in particular. The conclusion is that the pragmatic theory's inability to accommodate the artist autistic artist is a profound shortcoming. A revision of the pragmatic theory is called for, as is embracing of the development of the special talents of persons with autism.