synesthesia


Tilke Elkins, my favorite living painter, has her first gallery show and it is great. It’s open for one more week, until July 22, so you can still make it if you live in Oregon. It’s at The Voyeur in Eugene, 547 Blair Boulevard.

I may be biased by my years as the marketing director of her magazine, All Round, by my many more years living with her as she used our house as a gigantic art project, and by my even more years as her friend. (Plus, she did the album art and most of the photography and fliers for my band–here‘s an example).

I do not believe, though, that I am biased because of any of that. I’ve just had the great fortune to have spent so much time drenched in her aesthetic. I am not one of Abraham Maslow’s visual “advanced scout,” of superior sensitivity to color and form. It takes me a while to really appreciate an artist. I’ve had that time with her and it has really paid off. Tilke, on the other hand, is an advanced scout. When I am in doubt about a visual decision, I ask her and can trust to find her correct, eventually.

Photographs cannot do justice to her work–to my eyes, it seems to glow from the inside–but here is a shot of the gallery, to give you an idea:

Art by Tilke Elkins at The Voyeur, July 2011

Also, Tilke is starting an art school in Springfield, Oregon, this fall. She’s offering three classes:

Experimental Drawing Techniques and Materials: Tilke paints with natural pigments, many of which she makes herself, out of rocks and plants. She also paints on found materials.

Art for Synesthetes: This may be the first art class for people with synesthesia, whose senses behave quite differently from other people. (See my post on synesthesia here.) Tilke has synesthesia and it is part of how she works.

On Being a Metamodern Artist:  I have no idea what this is but it sounds intriguing. Check the “art school” link above for more information.

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My friend Tilke sent me a link to this short film depicting synesthesia, writing “This is what it’s really like.”

Folks with synesthesia experience what those without it might call a mixup of the senses–seeing sounds, feeling colors, that kind of thing. The most famous way synesthesia shows up is with the alphabet: A synesthete might see letters in different colors. It’s not that they associate colors with letters, they will actually see an “N” as inherently brown, for example, or an “E” as red. Numbers can have colors, too. Imagine how different your experience of reading or math would be if words and equations had color schemes!

At first I was fascinated by synesthesia in terms of what might cause it–maybe it’s the result of incomplete synaptic pruning, for example. In a lecture by Dr. Ed Awh in his Cognitive Psychology class a few years ago, though, I realized that synesthesia is more like a super power than a problem. Here’s a slide from the lecture:

 

Difficult, slow search for most of us, because we have to look at each digit to determine whether it’s a 2 or a 5. A synesthete with colored numbers does not have to do this, because color is what cognitive psychologists call a primary-search quality. Differences in color jump out at you. Imagine the same field of 2s and 5s, except the 2s were blue and the 5s were red. You could pick out the 2s immediately, like I saw Tilke do. A superpower!