| Art & Synesthesia

The synesthetic experience of a synesthete is a real and concrete sensory phenomenon. Icon Source: Entypo.

The synesthetic experience of a synesthete is a real and concrete sensory phenomenon.
Icon Source: Entypo.

The reading for this week, “Art and Synesthesia” by Dr. Hugo Heyrman, highlights the relation between art as a synesthetic experience, and the experiences synesthetes have on a daily basis. Although I was familiar with the term synesthesia, I was not aware that synesthetes could actually have more than two linked senses. I was also surprised to learn that most synesthetes have incredible memory abilities as well; I thought this was true only for autists.

First of all, art is about moving the viewer by making them connect emotionally to the piece. That phenomenon itself leaves room for some synesthetic experience from the viewer, since he will hopefully connect unrelated concepts when engaging with art. This could be related to the cross-sensory perception that natural-born synesthetes have, which is what inspired artists from different times to experiment and cross all kinds of borders in their art. For example, the text mentions Luigi Russolo, a Futurist composer who experimented with music, sound, noise and the grain of voice. He created noise-generating instruments, which allowed the inclusion of noise into his musical compositions.

Furthermore, the wonder of synesthesia is the ability to trigger senses due to the stimulation of other senses. When this condition is transposed to art, one obtains paintings that can evoke sounds, pictures that can evoke textures, sounds that can evoke images, images that can evoke smells, smells that can evoke visuals… the combinations are endless ! And needless to say that the experiences differ most of the time according to the person who experiences the art piece, just like the experience of one synesthete differs from another.

Like mentioned in the text, synesthesia enabled artists of modern art movements of 20th Century (Expressionism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, De Stijl, Abstract Expressionism, etc.) to reach new heights of creativity. Nowadays however, art as we used to know it has been replaced by multimedia, which kind of achieve the multi-sensorial synesthetic experience by the means of different medias. As we continue to create new technologies, we should never forget that whatever the nature of the piece, the viewer should continue to be engaged in moving and emotional experiences.

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