The NYC Daily Post interviewed Amanda Hebert Hughes, the creator of Sensory Gated Art®️, a new art genre. She’s a prolific painter who has also authored two children’s books. In her interview, Amanda Hebert Hughes discusses painting, writing and using art as a window into the Autistic world, illuminating Autistic culture. You can visit her website here.
Q: How do you describe Sensory Gated Art?
Sensory Gated Art is a reinvention of Minimalism that leverages specific techniques to promote neurological wellbeing for viewers. It reduces the risk of overstimulation that often stresses people out. I would also say that Sensory Gated Art is a window into the autism and neurodivergent world.
Q: How did you discover this new genre?
I didn’t set out to invent a new genre. I didn’t know I was doing something really unique for a while. And it left me wondering where I stood in the art world. I did stay true to the style I felt compelled to paint in, even though I didn’t know why I was compelled to paint this way.
I knew that authenticity was the way forward, for sure, and it didn’t matter if no one connected with my art; it didn’t matter if no one appreciated it or understood it. I knew that there’s no point to making art unless I’m true to my own expression and style. I’ve accepted that I could live and die doing this the way I feel compelled to do it and I may never see anyone appreciate it or understand it. I may never get that affirmation, just like Van Gogh.
Van Gogh lived and worked without any kind of affirmation or validation while he was living. And I thought, “If my artist life is like Van Gogh, it’s worth it for me to be true to my style.” That was before I was diagnosed as Autistic. So I was already an artist. It was all lined up beautifully that I was on this path of painting and then discover why I operate the way I do.
That was one thing that came along. But even better, in my community of neurodivergent people I got to meet — thanks to you, actually — was a blog called Sensory Gating by Burnett Grant. I was reading the article and in that moment I realized the cognitive process of sensory gating is what I was using my painting to do. I was using it to filter the world around me and integrate all of this visual stimulation into a much more calming piece of information.
So I was taking something very chaotic — the world around me — and turning it into something calming, enjoyable, enriching, and so I realized Sensory Gated Art is what I was doing. That was a new genre at that point.
Q: Are you still nervous about where you fit in the art world?
No because I’m comfortable with the realization that I’m one-of-a-kind, a pioneer of this movement. My art isn’t perfect, not according to some people’s standards. But what is does is create awareness and that’s what good art does. It changes culture, creates awareness within a culture. Shines a light on something that wasn’t previously understood. That’s what it’s done for me; it’s shined a light on the world for me. So Sensory Gated Art has been a window into the Autistic world.
I stand alone in the art world. To create a new genre is to stand alone — but not really because of all the people that are responding to it.
Q: Have you encountered any other work by other visual artists that you would describe as sensory-gated art?
I like to find some pieces that are close, that hit some of the marks, but I have not seen any art that uses all of the principles and properties that are in every single piece of Sensory Gated Art. Which I think is why Sensory Gated Art is so easy to recognize because it has consistent components throughout.
Q: What has surprised you about your artistic journey?
How wonderful it is. Knowing oneself better and understanding oneself better is never a bad thing, in my opinion. Before I knew that I had an autistic brain, I wasn’t very functional. I wasn’t happy because life was such a challenge and I didn’t know why. Now that I have an autistic brain, and I understand myself so much better, I’m the most functional I’ve ever been.
Q: You’ve authored two traditionally published children’s books. What would you like to share about these books?
Bandersnatch Books recently had a pop-up event and I showed up to meet the authors. And as I was walking up to the booth — nobody had seen me yet — I was watching a little four-year-old boy at the stand. One of the Bandersnatch Books owners asked him, “Which book do you want?” Out of all the books, he pointed straight at my book. Then I revealed I’m the author and got to sign it. And I got to watch him look through the book and take it home.
The experience is something I couldn’t have imagined, seeing children interact and enjoy the book. Seeing the book make people happy.
When you’re writing, you’re focused on the work, you’re focused on the quality. You’re focused just on the work itself. Then the book is published; it’s out in the world. That’s when new work begins, really, and it just gets better because the book becomes well-known and more people respond and are impacted by it.
In your author mind the work is done once it’s published, like that’s the climax. But no. It builds and builds even without us. Because our work will be out there even when we’re gone. Something greater than me is happening from something I’ve worked hard on.
But then I don’t want to take credit for what happens after that. But it’s amazing, it’s lovely.
Q: Which aspects of painting do you most enjoy? Which do you least enjoy?
I don’t know that there’s any aspects of painting I least enjoy. I guess I don’t like having to stop painting to change out rinse cups. I don’t like to stop.
What I like about painting is that I get to create something new, something no one has ever seen before. I get to give people a perspective that they wouldn’t have otherwise had. I get to speak out for people who feel they can’t speak up. So many neurodivergent people out there are trying to earn a living but aren’t being accommodated. I’m openly autistic for them so we can get to a world where we can all be openly autistic.
I feel like it’s happening. Slowly. But I think all the work that Autistic advocates do — and you can never have too many neurodivergent advocates — we can change the culture, we can help people understand something that’s been misunderstood for so long.
My painting encompasses all of that. It encompasses an expression for me personally. It provides comfort and something for people to collect out in the world. It gives people without a voice a voice. I love all the things my art does and is.
Q: Who is your ideal viewer or audience?
People who have yet to realize that they need to give themselves a break.
Q: Who are your favorite artists, whether past or contemporary?
I can’t pick a favorite because everyone is uniquely themselves and has something unique to bring to the table. So I don’t know that I can choose a favorite. But there is an artist that keeps coming that’s my least favorite artist. There’s one that stands out: Picasso has bad reputation, based on what I’ve read. He’s the only artist I think, “Oh, what a horrible person,” and he’s the person people most compare my work to.
People compare my work to cubism. Which is odd. Because my art is the opposite of cubism. Cubism gives you multiple perspectives on one thing. My art does the opposite; it gives you one limited — filtered — perspective of one thing. So I don’t know if people get caught up between the tension between those two opposite aspects. I don’t know. It’s a mystery. I wonder if it’s the blockiness of my art. But the blockiness of Picasso’s cubism is all over the place. Mine is clean.
Q: If you could choose to answer a question about sensory-gated art, what would it be? How would you respond?
How can Sensory Gated Art impact our culture? That would be a question I would answer with, “Sensory Gated Art®️ helps you to remember that not everyone experiences the world the same way as you.”
Amanda Hebert Hughes’ final comment illustrates the meaning of neurodiversity: the variety of all human minds. The existence of neurological diversity means that everyone processes information (thinks) differently, and Sensory Gated Art naturally accommodates the unique ways Autistic and many other neurodivergent minds operate.
Not only does this innovative genre reduce overstimulation, providing calm, but, as Amanda Hebert Hughes says, Sensory Gated Art offers an artful window into the Autistic world. While it’s impossible to know what the future holds for Sensory Gated Art, and for the neurodivergent and disability movements, this new artistic paradigm will surely continue to spread understanding and acceptance worldwide.
Edited by: James Sutton