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  • Writer's pictureBen Fearnside

Art and ADHD

Signpost choice ADHD vs normal

About 15 years ago I was diagnosed with adult ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

This wasn’t a quick quiz diagnostic, but the full scans-and-tests jamboree at the Maudsley hospital. So it’s official. The label is quite a big thing to wear but it’s also a relief to know, because it explains a lot about my abstract art.

I was the bright kid who couldn’t get on with school, the teen who was a trouble-maker and a thrill seeker. The young man who packed a bag and went on the road. Who came back and found himself, through making stuff. Lots of stuff.

The Attention Deficit angle means I'm always working on several paintings at once, moving from A to D without passing through B or C (why bother?) While my hand is making one painting, by brain is designing another. I’m making connections, combining ideas and materials other people wouldn’t.

The hyper-focusing means I really get to work. It gives my art its energy and power. It gave me the mental stamina to develop my metal-on-canvas alchemy.

So those are the advantages. ADHD gives me some pecadillos too.

I need to eat at three hour intervals or I get grumpy. I trash clothes because I go into the art workshop for ‘a quick look’ and come out hours later covered in paint. when I get into something I forget all about health and safety: there have been trips to A&E. Admin gives me cold sweats, and I sometimes get so overwhelmed with ideas I grind to a halt or so wired I can’t stop.

Most importantly, I get bored. Distracted.

I can’t stick to one thing. Before the paint is even dry, I'm onto something new. Or I glimpse something through some wavy glass and it’s suddenly all about that. For a week or two. Then its little machines. Or cracks. Or union jacks.

Lots of artists have ADHD (diagnosed or undiagnosed). While it fuels a creative brain, it doesn't always make for a structured career path.

Galleries and agents like artists with form and pedigree, who have a consistent look and feel. They love artists who can repeat themselves around a small set of variables, and develop in a linear way that buyers can follow. Marketing an outsider artist whose output is unpredictable is much, much harder.

A collector who liked one piece may hate the next. How do you persuade them to buy again? Does the new work negate the old? Do two very different works by the same artist have the same value? The same SEO Keywords? A clear, consistent USP?

I think my own USP is clear. I'm an artist with ADHD who makes metal on canvas abstract art. It's more than a USP: its my creative anchor.

This is why my upcoming exhibition at Gallery 40 for the Brighton Fringe, will be raising money for MIND better mental health charity.

6th – 20th of May 2018.

GALLERY 40, 40 Gloucester Rd, Brighton, BN1 4AQ


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