January 5th, 2012
While reading a biography of the great American painter Joan Mitchell, “Lady Painter-A Life” by Patricia Albers, I came across a passage dealing with synesthesia in which Albers describes being introduced to the topic by “Joan’s niece, Sally Perry in the form of a Wall Street Journal clipping dated June 8, 2002: “Why George Gershwin may have called it ‘Rhapsodie In Blue,’ ” by Sharon Begley. “That’s what Joan had,” Sally told me. Begley’s article described synesthesia, an innate condition in which the stimulation of ones sense (like hearing) triggers another (like seeing) as well. “Everyone is born with extra connections [among the senses], or synapses,” Begley had written. “Most get pruned in childhood. In synesthetes, the extra synapses seem to remain, producing a rich web of circuitry that connects the cortex’s color processor to the numeral area next door or links touch regions to vision regions.” Some synesthetes taste shapes, other hear smells, still others experience pain as color. Reportedly Gershwin saw music as color, hence Rhapsodie in Blue. The creator of the legendary album, Kind of Blue, jazzman Miles Davis, may have been an emotion- color synesthete: if so, he literally got the blues- or the oranges or greens. The painter of Blue Territory (among scores of her own glorious rhapsodies in blue), Joan Mitchell had musical-sound, personality-color, emotion-color, and grapheme-color synesthesia (meaning that she saw the letters of the alphabet in color), plus eidetic memory, which she described as mentally carrying around a suitcase filled with pictures.”
I was so captivated by this passage and the fascination that we all have with the nature of the creative process. Over the ages, many phenomenons have been attributed to artistic creation, a stigmatism in the case of El Greco, or arsenic stipulated as a factor in the works of Vermeer, Cezanne or Van Gogh to name a few. All fascinating to ponder when viewing and experiencing a work of art, be it visual, music, dance, or theater. But what is inescapable for all of us, is the mystery of human creation, from the Caves of Lascaux, The Sistine Chapel or Guernica, it is that unexplainable mystery – art, when something in us, in our soul is moved and awakened, that mysterious moment when we are transported to other regions never before visited, this incredible journey for both the artist and the viewer.