Eclectic Dyslexics: Could Neurodiversity be Key to Artistic Success?

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Dyslexia is often viewed in terms of difficulty, but have potential advantages been overlooked? DYSPLA, an organisation dedicated to producing the work of dyslexic story-makers’ seeks the ‘Dyslexic Aesthetic’. On the 15th March 2018 DYSPLA hosted a talk at the Crypt Gallery, London. Being a dyslexic writer herself, Emma Robdale was keen to find out more and sought out Lennie Varvarides, founder of DYSPLA, and proud Dyslexic.

DYSPLA Film Festival flyer

We believe in the dyslexic advantage and that it can be channelled to create inventive and powerful art, pushing modern conventions. (DYSPLA)

What is the Dyslexic Aesthetic?
‘DYSPLA believes that the Dyslexic Aesthetic is an emerging artistic genre. We are determined to pin down and articulate exactly what constitutes it.’ (DYSPLA)

The Dyslexic Aesthetic promotes the view that dyslexic artists have the ability to produce narratives differing from neurotypical artists by being more varied or non-linear. The reason for this is because dyslexics have a unique way of perceiving information.

Their subsequent lack of special attention to singular details or linearity can help to create a freer process of working, and one which includes a much broader spectrum of influences, methods and ideas.’ (DYSPLA)

Lennie believes that the way dyslexic film-makers produce film has a specific kind of innovation. She firmly advocates that if a dyslexic person creates all elements within a film, the final product will reflect their specific dyslexic style.

“The Dyslexic Aesthetic is everything. It’s not just the narrative, not just the writing. For me, the word Aesthetic encompasses every element from the lighting to the directing.”

She spoke about it not only being someone’s Dyslexia that shapes The Dyslexic Aesthetic but also the Neurodivergent experience:

“Being Neurdivergent has physiological effects that shape how dyslexic individuals grow and how identities are formed.”

The idea being that when a person differs from the norm they can learn to be adaptive and draw upon other strengths.

“Dyslexics are very intuitive. We know how to read people, we know how to read situations, and that probably comes from not being able to read that well in school.”

Photo of a white woman presenting in front of a screen

Lennie at DYSPLA. Photo © DYSPLA

If Dyslexic individuals have different experiences growing up to Neurotypical individuals, it could mean that they develop alternative ways of processing information. This is a dynamic that Lennie believes Dyslexic artists channel into their work.

“They’ve learned a short-hand with situations, characters, danger and excitement. Everything becomes a short-hand to emotion so young Dyslexics can understand the world.”

Lennie Varvarides started DYSPLA in 2007 and in 2013 Kazimir Bielecki joined as co-director, together they are collecting evidence to expand upon The Dyslexic Aesthetic. This year they put together the first ‘Dyslexic International Moving Image Festival’ (DIMIF), with the objective to widen discussions around Dyslexic filmmakers.

“You’ve got to state the hypothesis first, then try and prove it!”

Though Lennie is still at the exploration stage of her research some of the proof is already in the pudding as a large array of Dyslexic filmmakers have already worked at the top of their industry: Guy Richie, Joe Wright, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, George Lucas, Charlie Chaplin, David Lean, Milos Forman, Tim Burton, Steve McQueen and Walt Disney.

Portrait of film-maker Emma Allen with two stills from her film on either side of her.

Emma Allen with two scenes from ‘Ruby’. Image © DYSPLA

Dark photo taken inside a vaulted crypt

Exploring the tunnels of The Crypt Gallery. Photo © DYSPLA

The Dyslexic International Moving Image Festival
Thirty Dyslexic and Neurodivergent films were screened at The Crypt Gallery, the actual crypt of St Pancras Parish Church. I walked down stone stairs into an area lit only by red cased candles and ghostly projector rays. Lennie, adorned in a padded coat and woolly hat, told me:

“We’re giving people the Dyslexic Experience. It’s overstimulating, lights, background noise, disorientation. This is what it can feel like to be Dyslexic!”

But she was also very clear that the focus of DIMIF and The Dyslexic Aesthetic was not about informing neurotypical people about the difficulties of dyslexia.

“DYSPLA is not about the boy with Dyslexia. It’s about the work of Dyslexic artists. The talent comes from their dyslexia.”

DYSPLA does not want to be known as a charity, it is an arts movement dedicated to giving dyslexic and neurodivergent artists a platform. All films screened were created by dyslexic or neurodivergent artists but most of them did not revolve around the filmmaker’s own experiences of dyslexia. To view them I crept beneath dark arched passages, soon finding myself encased within freezing pockets of innovative madness…

‘Ruby’ by Emma Allen (Award Winner)

A vibrant face sprang out at me from the shadows. Ruby, a film created by Emma Allen depicts her face as a canvas.  She applies a variety of interlinking designs to make an intricate stop-frame display. To Emma the film is symbolic of how the human condition interacts with nature.

The artist and director Emma Allen identifies as dyslexic and believes it to affect the way in which she works, “I need everything to be visual for me to process it. I squeeze the story into my dyslexic brain, then squeeze out the visuals.”

‘Saturday’ by Mike Forshaw (Award Winner)

I navigated myself through to another chamber. Illuminated on crumbling white bricks was Mike Forshaw’s Saturday. Set in Liverpool the film is comprised of short scenes piecing together the lives of a family impacted by Hillsborough. It is shown through the perspective a young boy and never depicts the actual event, instead choosing to foreshadow a sense of building tension.

Portrait of white, male film-maker a

Portrait of film-maker Mike Forshaw. Image © DYSPLA

Mike Forshaw, Liverpudlian himself, only very recently realised that he was dyslexic. He has since embraced the diagnosis and spoken about how dyslexia may have influenced him:

“Because of my experiences as a kid of reading the world visually, I communicate visually. Film is a visual medium. In a moment I want to make someone feel as excited as I do.”

I asked Lennie Varvarides how these films could be influenced or linked by ‘The Dyslexic Aesthetic?’

“The immediacy in which the audience is transported into the narrative. There is no warm up, no sit down to get comfortable. As soon as you press play, you as an audience member are transported.”

She believed that all films had a certain style and charisma that could be their trademark.

“We are dyslexic people, that’s our identity, our characteristics. It’s how our brains works.”

Could the Dyslexic Aesthetic transfer to other disciplines?
The focus of DIMIF was on the ‘Dyslexic Aesthetic’ within film. But Dyslexics exist within all industries both creative and industrious. How does ‘The Dyslexic Aesthetic?’ affect them?

One of the speakers at DYSPLA’s panel was Chris Arnold, founder of The Garage, a consultancy company helping businesses to think ‘outside the box’.

Chris Arnold specifically seeks to work with Dyslexic individuals, Every board room should hire a dyslexic!” He believes that dyslexics have the ability to produce a range of different ideas, and that this can be beneficial to businesses, “Dyslexics think differently, they can see opportunities others can’t!” With this in mind, could discussions around The Dyslexic Aesthetic supersede art disciplines?

“DYSPLA hopes to instigate and facilitate research in the Dyslexic Aesthetic, becoming pioneers in the field and establishing it as a genuine academic area of study.” (DYSPLA)

While at DIMIF I felt that I could be fully appreciated as a Dyslexic writer. A wonderful vacation from discussions revolving around misplaced full-stops and chaotic commas. I’d mixed with creatives who had not felt the need to hide their dyslexia; they felt that they’d succeeded not despite of it, but because of it.

But, I still had not found the answer to my initial question, “If I’m Dyslexic, does that mean I have the Dyslexic Aesthetic?” So, as the credits of Mike’s Forshaw’s Saturday rolled, and I warmed my fingertips on a hot chocolate provided to me in a DYSPLA mug, I asked Lennie; “Do all Dyslexics have the Dyslexic Aesthetic?”

“No, because not all people are good at all things. But the ones that are, are really good!”

It would seem I cannot determine for certain that I am going to be a creative success, but I’d like to believe that myself and other neurodivergent individuals have the potential to be unashamedly sensational!

“We Recruit Dyslexics from around the world to bring together a united Dyslexic Narrative.” (DYSPLA’s Dyslexic Recruitment Video