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“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso
Synesthesia is the rare neurological condition in which senses are entwined—it comes in a myriad of forms—smells can evoke sounds, music can evoke color, letters or shapes can evoke smell. It is explained as a phenomenon in which one sensory experience prompts another. One of the more common form of the uncommon condition is called “audition colorée” – the sensing of colors in music and vowels.
A theory, based on research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, suggests that we are all born as synesthetes, that our very malleable, still-forming, newborn brains are able to make connections between different sensory areas—connections that later become blocked as the brain develops and matures. If this theory is true, babies would have one all-encompassing sense, for example, seeing, smelling and hearing a familiar voice. Synesthesia is thought to be more common in artists than the general public.
Wassily Kandinsky associated specific hues with notes of music. He said, “The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake with treble.” Kandinsky left behind his study of the law in order to study painting in Munich after experiencing a strong visual response to a performance of Lohengrin by Wagner. He wrote: “I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.”
Kandinsky did not limit his creative output to painting alone, creating experimental performances utilizing many media including original musical scores and lighting to express his experience of synesthesia. The Yellow Sound is perhaps the most famous of these.
He wrote: “Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays touching one key or another purposively to cause vibrations in the Soul.”
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–John and Ann