Friday, September 24, 2010
Brain-hacking art: Getting your wires crossed
What's the colour of a trumpet blast? David Hockney, Wassily Kandinsky and other synaesthetes could tell you
LETTERS, words, numbers, sounds, touch, pain and smell all trigger flashes of colour in Carol Steen's mind. The New York-based artist first discovered she could paint her synaesthetic visions after a visit to her acupuncturist.
"Each time a needle went in a colour flashed in front of my eyes," she recalls. "When all the needles were in it was like watching a movie. I rushed home and realised I could recall enough to paint a part of what I had seen."
Other synaesthetic artists include David Hockney and Wassily Kandinsky, who painted the piece below, entitled Blue. There is still some speculation over whether Kandinsky actually had synaesthesia or was simply influenced by reports of the phenomenon in other people.
But to Christopher Tyler of the Smith-Kettlewell Brain Imaging Center in San Francisco, who has analysed Kandinsky's work, it is obvious.
"It's very explicit in his work and his writings. He went to a performance of Wagner's music and then wrote about how vivid the visual impressions of the horns were and the colour that the music evoked in his mind. That's synaesthesia," he says.