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Seeing art differently with connected senses

Some artists can see music and hear art

Artist Ava Lee Millman Fisher at her exhibition, 'I See Music' at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver
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Reported by Cloe Logan

Synesthesia, a sensory condition that causes someone to perceive the world in unusual ways, allows artists to draw on their individual perceptions to create masterpieces.

Sensory pathways overlapping

The condition causes two or more senses to be involuntarily connected, leading to sensory pathways overlapping. For example, some people with synesthesia, called synesthetes, see numbers as being coloured.

According to a recent study lead by Simon Fisher, director at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, one in 25 people have some form of synesthesia.

However, there isn’t a lot known about how synesthesia develops and concretely defining it can be difficult.

“No single gene can account for this intriguing trait,” Simon said. “Even families who experience the same form of synesthesia are likely to differ in terms of specific genetic explanations.”

Hearing music through art

Ava Lee Millman Fisher, a painter and mixed media artist, has experienced synesthesia for as long as she can remember. She sees different colours and visuals when she hears music; the opposite occurs when she looks at art, she hears music and sounds.

“I see a lot of music when I paint and I think about it in musical terms,” Ava said. “I might look back at a painting and think it doesn’t have enough forte in it, which means strong and loud.”

Almost all of Fisher’s art contains symbols of music; she often couples her signature with a treble clef. In addition to music, much of her art contains themes of nature and Judaism.

Noah Gotfrit, a jazz bassist who also experiences a similar form of synesthesia, sees colour associated with music.

“C and A are blue and yellow for me. D is brown. Depending if it’s C sharp or flat, it’s a different colour,” Gotfrit said. “I think over time we lost of track of how things are connected and synesthesia kind of brings everything back together.”

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