Synaesthesia and art – what colour or shape is that feeling?

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.

synaesthesia

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 (perhaps more about that in the future!).

Painting feelings

As I have been practicing more mindfulness since I have been off work, 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 more recently, ‘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 theraputic 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).     I was recently worried about a family member who was ill, and the sketch below (I haven’t had time to translate this into a large watercolour yet) is my feeling of ‘Worry’ and ‘Scared’.    I am not sure about the colours yet, perhaps that is why I haven’t painted it.

worry
Worry, scared…

This week I was idly sketching and I got a strong sense that my husband’s love felt 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.   I wondered what colour my love for him was, and I immediately knew it was purple.   Strong, deep and rich.

It amused me to realise that these two colours where complementary!    So I did the watercolour above – it’s called ‘We are complementary’.

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.

Artists

There are many artists who are known to be synaesthetic, and it’s not surprising.    It is also perhaps not surprising that some of my favorite artists are Van Gogh, Hockney and Kandinsky!  Perhaps we 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.

More info

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/

Do you have shapes for feelings?   Know that some feelings are a certain colour?  I’d love to hear your experiences.

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9 thoughts on “Synaesthesia and art – what colour or shape is that feeling?”

  1. I’ve always seen thoughts/feelings as specific shapes with colors, for example, a read circle to the left with a long green line, though I’m pretty sure I would not be classified as fully synesthetic, as these images are specific to one particular situation and aren’t repeated in my mind the same way each time I have a certain feeling. I think many people on the spectrum between mere visual thinkers to those gifted with synesthesia feel compelled to create visual art as a way to communicate these visual thoughts more directly with others. I know I do.

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  2. I do have synaesthesia but had no outlet until I discovered that I could just write poetry. I saw an artist’s photographs and notice that his work resonates on specific chords on the bass clef. That told me his work was original, personal and inspired. I trusted what I heard and felt and wrote some lyrics to go with the images. Some people who have called me strange but I tell myself that at least I have a creative outlet for sharing my work with others. x

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    1. How wonderful 🙂 I love that you were responding to the authenticity of the piece, you are right, as observers of art we know when a piece is authentic and done from the heart rather than the head. Not strange at all!!

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