Essay on Does the Artist Really Hear Yellow?

Essay on Does the Artist Really Hear Yellow?

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A Mad Artist Or Does He Really Hear Yellow? (And Why Should We Care)


"The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes, or dark lake with the treble," wrote Wassily Kandinsky in Concerning the Spiritual in Art (1). As the reaction to his book proved, he was largely underestimating the public's propensity to deride any assertion made with assurance, especially one so seemingly subjective. When Kandinsky followed this comparatively general statement with detailed profiles for each basic color - light red, for instance, was "warm," gave one "a feeling of strength, vigor, determination, triumph," and corresponded to the "sound of trumpets, strong, harsh, and ringing" - some of his more outspoken readers suggested that the artist was more fit for an insane asylum than for a painter's career. While today we cannot deny Kandinsky's artistic merits, an interesting question remains. Were the details of his descriptions mere metaphors resulting from the vividness of his imagination? Or was there a physical experience behind such an extravagant way of seeing the world?

It turns out that you don't have to be an artist to have an experience of reality akin to that of Kandinsky. Psychologist Carol Crane, for instance, always sees the letter c in tawny crimson (2), blue accompanies the sounds of the piano for professor of English Sean Day (2), and when journalist Allison Bartlett thinks of a year, she has a distinct vision of a horseshoe with different months distributed over it (3). All of them (including Kandinsky) have a neurological condition called synesthesia - a peculiar mingling of the normally separate senses. For synesthetes, the stimulation of one modality ...


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...Development?" on "Psyche" page, by Simon Baron-Cohen
http://psyche.csse.monash.edu.au/v2/psyche-2-27-baron_cohen.html

9)"Cortical Feedback Improves Discrimination Between Figure and Background by V1, V2 and V3 Neurons" on "Nature" journal home page, by Hupe et. al.
http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/nature/journal/v394/n6695/full/394784a0_fs.html

10)"Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes" on Scientific American.com, by Vilayanur Ramachandran and Edward Hubbard
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=0003014B-9D06-1E8F-8EA5809EC5880000

11)"Synesthesia - A Real Phenomenon? Or Real Phenomena?" on "Psyche" page, by Luciano da F. Costa
http://psyche.csse.monash.edu.au/v2/psyche-2-26-dacosta.html

12)"Synesthesia and Artistic Experimentation" on "Psyche" page, by Cretien van Campen
http://psyche.csse.monash.edu.au/v3/psyche-3-06-vancampen.html

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