The human mind is a curious thing. We spend our entire lives trying to tame it in conformity with the societal norms. We use the same agencies that make it think outside the box, to remain in. The conformed mind interprets reality in the way we mould it into believing.

For most in a single society, the collective conscience is so ingrained that it outweighs individual interpretation of ‘collective events’. While collective conscience plays an integral part in keeping the society on the right path, non-conformity necessitates the formulation of laws and their implementation which serves as a functional measure in keeping individuals ‘on their toes’. This was theorised by Talcott Parsons, a functional theorist.

In a world where standing in long queues is regarded as normal, social psychologists have been pushing boundaries to see the limit to this unquestionable, uniform behaviour. Those outside of this ‘collectivist’ thinking are those non-conformists who are wired uniquely, who interpret the same events, differently. These non-binary minds are distributed along a wide spectrum. While it is easy to spot the vandals, there are those who’ve been viewing the same landscapes, mundane house work and intricacies of human emotions in a distinctive context. The prism of reality, for neither of us is easy to decipher, the vision on the other side bends light uniquely, for different people.

This process of ‘bending’ is dependent on not only external cues, but internal ones as well. The Nature vs Nurture debate plays a key role here. Think of all those minds that function divergently – those that have been unusually programmed by way of their bio chemistry. These that don’t conform to the norm, not literally, but wouldn’t be classified as vandals or non-functional. For such people the prism of reality brings a rather different meaning to the same life events and experiences.

Normal responses to light, colour and pain are curiously dealt with. Emotional cues get tangled and don’t make it out of the prism. Globally, experts are at war with understanding and deciphering ways in which the prism can be altered, cut short, so that the image produced can bear more comprehension to the earnest conformists. While the human mind is a web of intricacies, overlapping emotions and augmented realities, the closest people have gone to understanding the non-vandal, non-conformist mind is by deciphering the art that emerges from these minds of unusual depth.

For decades, art has been the outlet for most people with minds greater than the simpleton life afforded by conformity, and experiences deeper than what meets the eye. The writers decipher the three-dimensional reality in words that wouldn’t otherwise seem fit, and the artists bring colours to those oft-overlooked aspects of everyday life. This outlet has salvaged the expression for thousands of those for whom words fall short. The community of these similar minds is an appreciative, creative space where identification seems plausible.

There is something about art that brings people together. According to Marjane Satrapi, the director of Persepolis, “Human beings have a lot of problems identifying themselves with other human beings who don’t resemble them exactly. But there’s something about drawing that means that anyone can identify to a drawing…”

There are some for whom the primary mode of communication is the illustrative expression. For those who feel words don’t suffice and/or encapsulate the whole - these gaps can be filled with interpreting objects of their mind. This has been particularly helpful for people on the intellectual disabilities spectrum. Here the Nature part of the Nature-Nurture debate plays a vital role. A study quotes that when asked to name as many uses from a paper clip as possible, people on the spectrum (especially autism) came up with more unusual answers. Drawing Autism by Jill Mullin is a publication consisting of drawings, paintings and illustrations from kids and adults, on the autism spectrum. The ubiquitous intricateness, use of colour to perhaps distinguish a thought, and a formidable emphasis on facial expressions is all an indication that for most on this spectrum, reality is harnessed using rather different tools.

You might see something as three-dimensional, and when asked, draw it in a similar fashion. However, for someone who views it differently altogether, exhibits it so as well. As a recurring pattern, autistic and schizophrenics, especially draw facial features in an unusual manner. This perhaps stems from their ability to understand human emotion atypically. But as the functional, conformist section of the society, it is important for us to understand that this ‘divergent thinking’ is a result of alternative version of the same reality, and that these need to be entertained in the mainstream fashion to create safe places of expression.

These alternative perspectives have been ubiquitous, and somehow the vision of a girl in a bright yellow skirt on a summer day seems to stick – against the back drop of the many, many people who all look all too similar now. Conformity in art because of thought never really added flavour in anyone’s life. It is because of lives beyond the norm that make one understand the limitations within which we’ve tamed our minds to operate.

Not many of us have the ability to look beyond the horizon, but then we all define our own horizon.


n             The writer is a Lahore-based freelance journalist and a published author

of Foreign Policy of Pakistan

(2000-2016): A Game Theory Analysis.