Effects of Synesthesia on Art
By Muhammad Farrukh




Synesthesia is a disorder of the brain in which a person's senses are crossed. Synesthetes (people who have synesthesia), all share unique cases of the disorders. Some synesthetes might have chromesthesia, where their hearing and vision are mingled, while others may have grapheme-color synesthesia. Subjects with grapheme-color synesthesia view numbers, letters, months, letters, etc. with a certain hue. So for example, a person with this type of synesthesia may only see the letter, “b” as blue and they may visualize or associate the month of May with a the color orange, for example. Subjects with chromesthesia, which also happens to be the most common type of synesthesia, may see certain colors every time they hear a certain sound. These however, are not the only types of synesthesia. A person with synesthesia may even be able to hear, taste or smell a color. In the end, it seems difficult to comprehend this complex disorder and it is even more difficult to explain it but the best way to explain it is that a person with synesthesia has another stimulus stimulated when one of their stimuli is stimulated. So what does any of this have to do with art? Well, a lot, actually. Some of the most famous and revered artists have been known to have synesthesia. Some of these artists include, Vincent Van Gogh,
Wassily Kandinsky, David Hockney, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Leonard Bernstein, and Duke Ellington. Pretty much all of these artists are known for having chromesthesia and they have cited their strange “gift” as a heavy influence on their artwork. Many artists, including the ones previously mentioned and lesser known artists have cited music as an inspiration for artwork. As a chromesthete has their hearing and vision mingled, many of them can literally draw or paint what they hear or listen to.



Composition VII
Composition VII

Wassily Kandinsky

Kandinsky is one of the first artists that we studied in this course and he is also in my opinion, the best example of an artist heavily influenced by his condition of synesthesia. Kandinsky considered himself an artist, cellist and a teacher. In short, two of his favorite pastimes, creating and playing music and his passion for painting were intermingled due to his synesthesia. Kandinsky often compared the process of creating art with that of composing music. His quote, “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul”, best describes his view of his two favorite hobbies. Kandinsky often gave his artworks titles such as improvisation and composition due to his perception of music and art being interchangeably linked. His artwork, Composition VII was the artwork that we had briefly studied during the beginning of the course. Composition VII was created in 1913 and it is considered a part of the abstract art period. An oil on canvas
Wassily_Kandinsky_-_Impression_III_(Concert)_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Impression III
painting, the composition is considered one of his finest works and one of his if not his greatest synesthesia influenced artworks. The subject matter of the painting is purely indescribable, as regular and irregular shapes bounce back and forth spontaneously with flashing colors in the background. Another one of Kandinsky’s works includes, Impression III (Concert), which was purely inspired by a Schoenberg Concert. As pictured on the right, it depicts what appears to be a cat or a face of some sort, which has blended in with the background among an array of flashing colors. Improvisation 26 (Rowing) and Yellow-Red-Blue are other examples of the kind of synesthesia induced abstract art that Kandinsky created. Again, being the abstract artwork that it is, the subject matter for either works is not clearly definable.

Improvisation 26 (Rowing)
Improvisation 26 (Rowing)

Yellow-Red-Blue
Yellow-Red-Blue




Vincent van Gogh

Wheatfields with Crows
Wheatfields with Crows

Vincent van Gogh is a well known and revered artist who is best remembered for works such as The Starry Night, Irises, Starry Night Over the Rhone, Cafe Terrace Over the Rhone, etc. Known for his unique techniques and distortion of real life images, it is widely believed that van Gogh was a synesthete. Analysts, art historian and researches have concluded that van Gogh was a synesthete due to his letters to his brother Theo, in which provides descriptions of sound and sight as being interchangeably linked. One letter from van Gogh reads, “Some time ago you rightly said that every colorist has his own characteristic scale of colors. This is also the case with Black and White (sic), it is the same after all — one must be able to go from the highest light to the deepest shadow, and this with only a few simple ingredients. Some artists have a nervous hand at drawing, which gives their technique something of the sound peculiar to a violin, for instance, Lemud, Daumier, Lançon — others, for example, Gavarni and Bodmer, remind one more of piano playing. Do you feel this too? Millet is perhaps a stately organ.”. Artworks that best exemplify the effect of van Gogh’s synesthesia on his artwork include, The Starry Night, Wheatfield with Crows and even his Self Portraits.

The Starry Night
The Starry Night
Self-Portrait 1889
Self-Portrait 1889
Self Portrait with a Grey Felt Hat
Self Portrait with a Grey Felt Hat
























Melissa McCracken

Melissa McCracken is an online blogger that paints as a hobby. In McCracken’s own words, “I paint music”. McCracken displays all the classic signs of chromesthesia and grapheme-color synesthesia. She views numbers, letters, etc. in color and her vision and hearing are intermingled. Such circumstances make McCracken’s case even more unique. For McCracken, her chromesthesia has had the most profound effect on her artwork. She has painted numerous paintings in coordination with the music she listens to. In essence, she saw the colors she painted as a result of the sounds of the music. McCracken almost always titles her paintings after the songs she listens to. Some examples include paintings she named after John Lennon’s “Imagine”, David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?”, Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”, and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”. Also, if it means anything, the songs are pretty good too, pretty heavenly, honestly. Especially, “Since I’ve Been Loving You”.

Radiohead - Karma Police
Radiohead - Karma Police
Led Zeppelin - Since I've Been Loving You
Led Zeppelin - Since I've Been Loving You





















John Lennon - Imagine
John Lennon - Imagine
David Bowie - Life On Mars?
David Bowie - Life On Mars?






















Cancer
Cancer
Dysthymia
Dysthymia

Jack Coulter

Jack Coulter is a modern artist with synesthesia. Like many artists, the specific type of synesthesia that Coulter has is chromesthesia. Coulter’s condition has been described as a gift but a curse as well. Coulter has described times when his condition has caused him sensory overload and has left him in periods of disorientation and with intense migraines. His uniqueness has left him with a sense of not fitting in with others as well. However, Coulter begs to differ as when confronted with the generalization he replied with, I don’t think that anything in life is either a gift or a burden. You can learn from all experiences, it’s very balanced. There are upsides, there are downsides. My synesthesia plays a strong part in my life as I’m an artist and my day-to-day being consists of stimulation in visual means.”. In an interview when he was questioned of the subject matter and themes of his paintings, Coulter responded with, “I explore the themes of love, death, birth, dreams, sex and anatomy within the confines of beauty.” Coulter also holds musicians and artists as inspirations in the same regard. Two influences from the previously mentioned vocations are the famous 20th century abstract expressionist artist, Jackson Pollock and the 1990s grunge rock band, Nirvana member, Kurt Cobain. Kurt Cobain for Coulter is a double inspiration as it is not just Cobain’s music that Coulter regards dearly. Cobain’s overlooked paintings are also serve as a muse for Coulter. As mentioned before, Coulter’s paintings revolve around very dark themes and the titles reflect the themes. Some of his paintings include, Dysthymia, Cancer, Conscivit (Latin for Suicide), Glioma (Type of Brain Tumor), Oxytocin, Eclipse, etc.


Oxytocin
Oxytocin
Eclipse
Eclipse


























Works Cited

Travis. "Wassily Kandinsky: Synesthesia & Abstraction." Synesthesia Test. The Synesthesia Community, 26 July 2012. Web. 08 June 2016. <http://www.synesthesiatest.org/blog/wassily-kandinsky-abstraction>.

PALMER, STEPHEN E. "What Color Is This Song? - Issue 26: Color - Nautilus." Nautilus. PHOTOCOLLAGE BY FRANCESCO IZZO, 16 July 2015. Web. 08 June 2016. <__http://nautil.us/issue/26/color/what-color-is-this-song__>.

Williams, Holly. "How Synaesthesia Inspires Artists." BBC. BBC, 21 Oct. 2014. Web. 08 June 2016. <__http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140904-i-see-songs-in-colour__>.

Seaberg, Maureen. "Vincent Van Gogh Was Likely a Synesthete."Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 1991. Web. 08 June 2016. <__https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sensorium/201308/vincent-van-gogh-was-likely-synesthete__>.

Denham, Jess. "Jack Coulter: Meet the Young Artist with Synesthesia Who 'hears' Colour." The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 9 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 June 2016. <__http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/jack-coulter-meet-the-young-artist-with-synesthesia-who-hears-colour-and-saves-lives-with-his-a6856261.html#gallery__>.

McCracken, Melissa. "I See Music Because I Have Synesthesia, So I Decided To Paint What I Hear." Bored Panda RSS. Boredpanda, n.d. Web. 08 June 2016. <http://www.boredpanda.com/i-paint-music/>.