a condition in which someone experiences things through their senses in an unusual way, for example by experiencing a colour as a sound, or a number as a position in spaceCambridge English Dictionary.
I have mentioned before that I am synaesthetic. I don’t see numbers or words as colours or see music as colours (although that sounds amazing) – mainly I have a very specific way that I see numbers in time. I had no idea about synaesthesia until I was in my mid-40’s when I was driving and heard a BBC Radio4 programme about it, I nearly crashed the car! That was me! I thought everyone saw numbers like me.
Number form synaesthesia
I have number-form synaesthesia, which involves a complicated moving, coloured, ribbon of numbers going forwards and backwards from differing perspectives depending on the context (time, calendars, days of the week or just normal numbers). It makes juggling numbers quite complicated sometimes but also I can grasp some concepts easily because I see it in visual form.
This can be quite a handicap when I cannot envisage one number as higher than another – ‘greater’ yes, ‘higher’ no.
I didn’t think much about it until I started doing my art and I realised how being synaesthetic affects my art and how I see the world, and I have started to take it more seriously again. I read Wednesday is Indigo Blue (Crytowic / Eagleman) and it piqued my interest, especially as I realised that other aspects of how I see the world are synaesthetic too.
As I have developed my mindfulness practice, it has caused me to ask more often ‘What am I feeling right now?’ this led very naturally for me to ask ‘What shape is that feeling?’ and then, ‘What colour is that feeling?’
I started to paint my feelings. This is different to my photography, which tries to convey feelings via an image – this is attempting to paint the actual feeling. I found this very therapeutic and also was surprised to find that others got a strong sense of feelings when they saw the image (although not necessarily the same one as me). Worry might be zig zags, comfort might be soft clouds….
Love often feels yellow. It hadn’t occurred to me that feelings had colours before and I was interested in this, especially as ‘traditionally’ love is red in our society. I thought about why yellow and it was the universally uplifting and postivivity of yellow that made it feel right. Strong rich, deep feelings are purple.
Of course I have no idea if everyone thinks like this, after all it is common in our language to speak about being green with envy or purple with rage. I am sure most people could empathise with anger being spiky or love being soft and rounded. I don’t know if this is synaesthesia or common to us all.
Interestingly, until very recently (perhaps within the last decade) over 90% of people didn’t believe synesthesia was real, where as for the 4% of people who do have it, it’s just normal life and totally accepted.
Recently I have started to draw sounds – see my blog here – perhaps this is also a form of synaesthsia, I can look at a drawing afterwards and be transported back there, it makes perfect sense of the landscape I was experiencing….
There are many artists who are known to be synaesthetic, and it’s not surprising. Perhaps I love Van Gogh, Hockney and Kandinsky because see the world in a similar way.
According to a 2010 study, there is a higher prevalence of synaesthesia in art students, so it obviously does influence our actions.
I suspect that every synaesthete is unique, that we all have our senses interconnected in subtly different ways, which is wonderful for the world of art and the different ways we see and experience the world.
More info on synaesthesia in art here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia_in_art
How synaesthesia inspires artists from the BBC
You can find out more about synaesthesia here: http://www.synesthesiatest.org/
The Guardian from 2014 – How we could all benefit from synesthesia
Do you have shapes for feelings? Know that some feelings are a certain colour? I’d love to hear your experiences.