Synesthetic Art

For a long time it has been thought that synesthesia is more common in artistic individuals. Whether this is statistically true or not is unknown because no one has systematically examined a random sample for both traits. There are, of course, notably famous syntesthetes such as Liszt, Hockney and Nabokov. However, here our experience is highly skewed because there are far more famous artists who happen to be synesthetic than there are synesthetes who happen to be famous artists. It is again a matter if sampling bias

Still the data are suggestive. For example. 41% of subscribers to The Synesthesia List( a nonrandom sample) work in artistic professions. Psychologist Carol Crane finds that synesthetes are far more likely than non-synesthetes to have artistic or musical training and know a foreign language. Self-reported nonrandom surveys also come up with a high percentage(23%) or artistically inclined persons among synesthetes (methodological shortcomings in that study, however, may merely indicate that synesthesia is more common among fine art students than the general population.


Figure 8.6

What kind of art do synesthetes create? Usually they take one of several approaches. Some, like Jane Bowerman, who has [sound->color, shape, movement] + [emotion ->color] synesthesia, are self-taught and paint only what they see(see figure 8.6)

Another approach is for synesthetes to attempt an exact portrayal of what they perceive, perhaps even providing a guide. Composer Olivier Messiaen, for one, does this when telling us “certain combinations of tone and certain sonorities are bound to certain color combinations, and I employ them to this end. In describing the colored chords of the “strophes” that comprise Chronochromie( literally,” color of time”), he explains



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