Synesthesia is an involuntary joining in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by a perception in another sense. In addition to being involuntary, this additional perception is regarded by the synesthete as real, often outside the body, instead of imagined in the mind’s eye. It also has some other interesting features that clearly separate it from artistic fancy or purple prose. Its reality and vividness are what make synesthesia so interesting in its violation of conventional perception. Synesthesia is also fascinating because logically it should not be a product of the human brain, where the evolutionary trend has been for increasing separation of function anatomically.
R. Cytowic, “Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses” Springer-Verlag, NY (p.1)
When I was very little, perhaps four or five, I noticed that numbers and words had corresponding colours, at least to me they did. As I grew older I didn’t think much about it until one night when I was twenty. A friend had a house party and we were sitting around talking about the usual: guys, work, school and somehow the coversation got around to how people perceive things differently. My girlfriend Maria said she couldn’t understand how her sister could hear the same conversation and get a completely different spin on what was being said. Of course, they didn’t agree on much as I recall. They fought about everything. Maria was an artist and somehow I knew she would get what I was about to share, and I was right. Unfortunately no one else did and we were ribbed mercilessly for freakin’ ever. But I digress. I mentioned this thing I have with numbers and words having colours and Maria’s eyes lit up like street lights at dusk. “Oh my god, she said, I do that!” We talked and talked about it, listing the words and numbers with their corresponding colours and in some cases ( I know this will sound nutty ) odours or flavours. Another friend told me many years later that when she played the piano some notes could be seen as shapes in her mind. Here is my question to you: Do you as an artist see yourself in this? I’m so damn fascinated by how having synesthesia affects the creative process. If you have a minute, leave me a comment and let me know what colours etc you see in numbers, sounds and words. I feel there is some sort of sensory expansiveness going on with artistic people that facillitates how we filter emotion and ideas and turn them into something solid like a poem, story, melody or painting. If you look around you at our culture, you can see our handy work on everything, even the most common and mundane. For example: why is the colour blue associated with sadness, red with anger and green with jealousy?