Understanding the Artist and ATD

Some may call it ADD, ADHD, or OCD, or “perfectionism,” but in my so very humble opinion, it’s nothing more than ATD. And, no medication is needed!

So, what is it, you ask, and, is this all a joke? Okay, this particular blog of mine is to be taken lightly. (I promise, I’ll write more seriously later.) ATD stands for “Artistic Temperament Disorder” and, though I said to take it lightly, there are some truths to it.

And yes, I made it up. After raising my own five children, observing my grandchildren and teaching piano and children’s choir for over 35 years, I have decided I’m entitled to my own conclusions.

My father was the perfect and first example to me of someone with, “Artistic Temperament Disorder.” At 14, he was singing and directing the music in his little church up in Lambs Corner, Michigan. After marching for four years in the Marine Band, trombone in tow, Dad earned his Masters in Voice and Choral Conducting at an artsy university down South. He spent the rest of his life singing in operas, churches and conducting. Add to that, photography, building folk instruments and a harpsichord. Dad was a true “Artist.”

It was during my teen years that, in my mother’s attempts to help us understand our quirky and mysterious father, she’d say to us, “Kids, it’s just his ‘Artistic Temperament.’” Weeks before a big performance, Dad holed up in his room with the “flu.” We kept the house quiet. We didn’t invite friends over, because of Dad’s “Artistic Temperament.” Often, if a performance didn’t go well, he’d take off in the car or disappear on a long walk. Once he disappeared from the auditorium during the program. Something went awry and his big solo number that he’d prepared for all day, didn’t happen. After sitting in the parking lot for a while, realizing he was never going to come out, Mom and I drove home without him. We knew he’d come home eventually. He did. He had to walk it off.

Dad loved us. But as Mom always said, “It’s his Artistic Temperament.”

How did my mother understand him so well? She came from a musical family. But that’s another story.

Fast forward, I’m grown and married to my high school sweetheart, with my own college degree in music, with a proficiency in piano. I lived and breathed piano. (My nick-name, thanks to my brother, was “piano banger.”) My poor, left-brained husband, Mark, not only had myself with which to deal, but five artsy children. My mother should have warned him about my “Artistic Temperament” and how we might breed more of them. Laughing (deviously) out loud here.

So let’s take this apart and analyze it. To be a great artist there usually follows some form of heightened sensitivity.

A good artist needs to see greater detail in the lines and shapes of things, separation of colors, to see beyond the normal color wheel, to be attentive to light and to hold in his memory that picture and transfer it to a canvas. He needs sensitive ears to hear the nuances of pitch and timbre, individual instruments within an intricate orchestral performance. He needs to feel the emotion in a musical piece, taste the different ingredients in a casserole, and so on. He appreciates nature for all its sights, sounds, smells, and feelings.

But with all these sensitivities, comes the uncomfortable aspects of daily living. Clutter is annoying, camera flashes are torture, and fluorescent lights are villains. High pitched noises, noisy children and harsh voices are stressful. Clothes, blankets, socks, and sheets must feel comfortable on the skin, tags must be cut. Temperatures are too hot, too cold, or never quite right. Bothersome textures of foods are repulsive and can even create nausea.
Sensitivity to others feelings gives the artist the ability to create something that touches others but that makes him more sensitive to people and the world around him, making it often harder to cope, making the stomach turn and other physical maladies that come in the form of anxiety or panic attacks.

Dad was given to moods and felt the emotions of life and family. His emotions were often too strong to handle physically and he appeared as if he had no care at all, but that was his own protective layer. Conversely, when Dad sang, he let all that emotion out in his deep rumbly baritone voice and everyone got goose bumps. When he conducted works like the Messiah, he was a “Maestro” in his Marine build, sporting his black tux, crisp white shirt, black bow tie, and dark wavy hair, greased back with a few strands that flipped across his forehead as he swung his baton, breathing and moving with the music.

The sensitivities needed for an artist are often his Achilles heel, but it’s the cross he bears for the good of his art—art he is creating for the good, enrichment, therapy and so many other benefits of the general public.

Eleven years ago, my first granddaughter, Selah, sat her three year old body down on the living room floor, pulling at her socks, trying to get the seam at the toes straight, whining all the while. My daughter-in-law sighed. Selah was whiny about being too cold, picky about her food, etc. and she reminded me of my son, her father. I understood what was taking place. I laughed and said to my daughter-in-law at the time, “You’re welcome.” Since then, Selah’s artistry has shown up in her artwork and musicianship. Am I surprised? Not in the least! But for a parent who hasn’t lived with this before and doesn’t understand it, it can get very frustrating.

So, I say all this, to say to parents of budding artists:

These little things that bother him/her, could truly be bothersome. Instead of arguing, help them cope. Cut the tags out of the clothes, buy socks with no seams, turn down the TV, take pictures without flash, and buy whole grain breads because they don’t turn into dough in your mouth like white bread. I’m not saying you have to listen to whiny children. I didn’t. The sound of whining bothers my highly sensitive ears. My kids have ATD, but we (my left-brained husband and myself) taught them to cope with it, not whine about it. Thank heavens. LOL

Your child may be distracted visually in the classroom by all the stimuli like hanging mobiles, lots of bulletin boards, decorations and the other children around her. But that doesn’t mean he has a medical disorder. He might be distracted because he’s highly stimulated by extra sights and sounds. He could be a great artist. He could just have ATD. I’m just saying. I could say more here. Maybe another blog.

People these days want to be a music star, a famous painter or raise a child to be that musical genius. Just know this, it comes at a price.

Artists, musicians, chefs, architects, and all the rest of you with ATD, I’m rooting for you. Keep suffering for the cause. And buy Egyptian Cotton. It’s worth the extra cash.