“Seeing” Music: How Synesthesia is Viewed by an Artist

I recently gave my wonderful grade seven students an assignment, titled “Science in the News” (click the link to take a look at the assignment), where they are asked to find a current event article and complete a written, visual and oral component to the article.  I wont go into details on what each component is, but I will demonstrate some examples that I came up with this week to model how this assignment might look.  So… here is article number one I would like to share.

© 2014 by Melissa S. McCracken

VISUAL COMPONENT: Here is the mini-movie I made about the article.

WRITTEN COMPONENT

TOPIC – The topic of the article is human anatomy, more specifically the human brain.  The topic could also be under biology.

TITLE: The title of the article is “Here’s How an Artist with Synesthesia ‘Sees’ Famous Songs”

ARTICLE SOURCE: The article was found on the website www.iflscience.com.

VOCABULARY:

Synesthesia – a rare neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory pathway (such as sound) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second pathway (such as sight).  An artist who has synesthesia is able to not only hear music but can see or visualize the music as well.  Synesthesia is a very rare neurological condition.

Neurological: referring to the nervous system of the human body.  There are many different neurological diseases that can affect the human brain, such as Alzheimers.

Stimuli: something in the environment that causes us to react.The balloon popped and we all jumped.  In that scenario, the popping balloon was the stimulus and when we all jumped that was our reaction.

SUMMARY:

Artist Melissa McCracken, an artist from Kansas City, has a rare neurological condition known as synesthesia.  What this means is that Melissa will actually experience music as two things: something she hears and something she sees.  She experiences sounds as images and colours while listening to music.  To better share her experiences with synesthesia, Melissa decided to listen to some of the most popular songs from the last 30 years of music and paint what she saw.  She has been painting these images since 2014.  Scientists are still not sure what causes synesthesia.  The human brain and its abilities continues to be a very complex and mysterious part of the body.  Her paintings are available for sale from her website.

MY REACTION:

When reading the article, I was fascinated about the idea that people could see music.  When I took a university course on the brain, I also heard stories about people being able to taste shapes!  I wonder if it would be possible to taste music?  I think that being someone with synesthesia could be very difficult, because there would be a lot of sensory information that you would have to “deal” with at one time, rather than just hearing or listening.  I chose this article because not only do I really like science and the human brain, but I think that music and art are a large part of how wonderful our brain is and what it allows us to see and feel.  I also picked the article because I really liked her paintings and I wanted to know more about what songs she had picked to pain. I would be very curious how much one painting would be to buy!

IMPACT ON SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND/OR SOCIETY

I think that the impact this article has is mostly on the understanding that people may or may not have on synesthesia and how it can impact or influence the lives of others.  Reading the article actually gave me a greater appreciation for not just art but for what some people live with each and every day.  Some questions that I would have for the artist are:

  • What was your favourite song to paint?
  • Did one genre or type of song show the same sorts of paintings? (i.e. did rock music have lots of “sharp” or “pointed” parts of a painting??)
  • How did you feel while painting?
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Posted on October 6, 2015, in assignment, homework, news, YouTube. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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