The Color of Sound

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”  – Pablo Picasso

Impression III (Concert), 1911, Wassily Kandinsky
Impression III (Concert), 1911, Wassily Kandinsky

Synesthesia is the rare neurological condition in which senses are entwined—it comes in a myriad of forms—smells can evoke sounds, music can evoke color, letters or shapes can evoke smell. It is explained as a phenomenon in which one sensory experience prompts another. One of the more common form of the uncommon condition is called “audition colorée” – the sensing of colors in music and vowels.

A theory, based on research conducted at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, suggests that we are all born as synesthetes, that our very malleable, still-forming, newborn brains are able to make connections between different sensory areas—connections that later become blocked as the brain develops and matures. If this theory is true, babies would have one all-encompassing sense, for example, seeing, smelling and hearing a familiar voice. Synesthesia is thought to be more common in artists than the general public.

Wassily Kandinsky associated specific hues with notes of music. He said, “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 treble.” Kandinsky left behind his study of the law in order to study painting in Munich after experiencing a strong visual response to a performance of Lohengrin by Wagner. He wrote:  “I saw all my colors in spirit, before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me.”

Composition VII Sketch 1 Wassily Kandinsky 1913
Composition VII Sketch 1 Wassily Kandinsky 1913

Kandinsky did not limit his creative output to painting alone, creating experimental performances utilizing many media including original musical scores and lighting to express his experience of synesthesia. The Yellow Sound is perhaps the most famous of these.

He wrote:  “Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul. Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays touching one key or another purposively to cause vibrations in the Soul.”

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–John and Ann


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About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.