Tag Archives: Art

Not just faces

There I was last night watching the Rocky Horror Picture Show with one of our kids who was viewing it for the first time (and was predictably an instant fan), and I was impressed by what I thought were similarities between the “Expert” character played by the late English actor Charles Gray and the European-raised Gilbert Proesch, who is one half of the two-man art phenomenon Gilbert and George. I felt there was such a similarity that I wondered if the artist had done an acting role, and they were the same person, but at the same time I knew that one has a very asymmetric face and the other didn’t. I still felt that there is some similarity, but wasn’t sure exactly what or how. Now that I’ve been able to Google up some images of the faces of both men, it is clear that their faces in still photography look quite different, and it is also obvious that although the artist has lived in England for a long time, he retains an exotic European accent that is quite different to the English actor’s. So why do I still feel that there is some similarity? Clearly it isn’t face or accent matching. Perhaps their voices are similar in pitch or something, but I think what I’ve been doing is recognition of personas or personalities or characters. The characters portrayed by Gray and Proesch (Gilbert and George are an act, though probably close to reality) are similar in many ways. They are English gents wearing suits with gray hair of a similar style, of a similar age (in the films I’ve viewed of each), with personalities that are male, quite handsome, well-spoken, urbane, controlled and focused, culturally English, intellectual, interesting and authoritative in some way, but at the same time both operating within the shock-comedy-art genre (Gilbert and George’s interviews are often very funny and their art could be interpreted as shock-comedy-art). I think it is possible that their body language and/or voices might be quite similar, which might not be captured in still images.

What does this mean? Why does this matter? I think it shows that there’s much more to being a super-recognizer (as I apparently am according to numerous test results) than merely memorizing the shapes and contours of mental images of faces. I think the thing that gives me “the edge” in face recognition is a great memory for personality or character, which means being able to automatically encode in my brain the whole package of what makes a person; face, hair, body, culture, gender, personality, level of intellect, vocabulary, race, etc. I’m certain that this ability in memorization of the whole person is related the the fact that I’m a synaesthete with a hyper-connected brain, which may well mean that I’m better than others at memorizing a concept of one particular person consisting of a large number of traits of that person, including visual, conceptual and auditory information (face, personality, voice etc) and each of those traits things that they might have in common with any number of other people I’ve seen and memorized. As you should be able to see (in your mind’s eye), this type of memorization is like a huge and complex network of associations. I suspect that a hyper-connected brain might be good at handling this type of categorical thinking about disparate characteristics. I also think this type of personality recognition is related to the fact that I’m not only a synesthete but a personifying synaesthete. Ever since childhood I’ve automatically thought of numbers and letters as having human attributes such as ages and genders and personalities. This is called ordinal-linguistic personification, and it is a type of synaesthesia. I guess my brain has always been very keen to memorize personalities, even in things that aren’t actually people. If you want to fully understand superiority in face recognition, you will need to look at synaesthesia and personification. That is my tip to researchers and that is also MY idea.

 

I must look, my fusiform gyrus tells me so

Street art by Beastman and Vans the Omega

a section of a wall mural by Vans the Omega and Beastman in Perth

We had the pleasure of watching street art being created for the Public street art festival in Perth, Western Australia by Form last weekend. The smell of spraycan paint wasn’t so great but it was a feast for the eyes and the ears, with a boom-box blasting away in the carpark on Murray Street. While we weren’t there in time to see the piece of art partly shown in the photo below, which is I believe the creation of the Sydney artist Beastman and Adelaide-based artist Vans the Omega, I found it hard to take my eyes away from the mural. I’m a sucker for colour, I just can’t get enough of it, and nothing commands attention like saturated colours outlined in black. I suspect that the pleasure that I get from colour could be explained by the blessings of normal colour vision in the eye (cone cells in the eye normal and working) and a well-developed and well-connected fusiform gyrus, which is the area of the brain that processes faces and numbers and letters and colours and other wonderful visual experiences. This artwork certainly gave my fusiform gyrus a few things to think about, because in addition to colour perception it triggered a bit of visual recognition, because I am sure I’ve seen an image quite similar to the section photographed in some other artwork, perhaps something from the Fin de siècle? In my time I’ve looked at a lot of Symbolist and decadent art and the other art movements from the late 1800s. Of course, the other brain phenomenon triggered by this art is pareidolia, and I can see that this is an aspect of visual perception that Beastman loves to play around with, eyes and hidden faces and symmetrical designs being recurring themes in his work. On top of that my brain is also prompted to some recognition of facial expressions, because that nearly-hidden face is a grumpy one, if I’ve read it right. There’s a lot to just looking, when the art is designed to appeal to human psychology.

Salvador Dali certainly had a thing about hidden faces

Looking through our new calendar for the year 2014, a calendar featuring the art of the famous surrealist Salvador Dali, I noticed some works featuring images of faces embedded in paintings that are not of faces. I guess you might call it art designed to give rise to the human perceptual distortion that is known by the term pareidolia. Later we were browsing a fantastic illustrated book about visual illusions, and inside more bizarre creations of Dali could be found that featured hidden faces, along with plenty of other items of visual art by other artists that play with human face perception. Unfortunately, the description in this book of a work of Dali’s is incorrect. In the book there is a photo of a room at the Dali Museum in Figueres in Spain which is incorrectly identified as a portrait of the late blonde American actress Marilyn Monroe. I think it is actually a portrait of the late blonde American actress Mae West, cleverly constructed out of items in a room. The Dali painting Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire is another example of a Dali hidden face, and many more can be found among his prolific works. Dali certainly had a thing about hidden faces, or pareidolia. He even wrote a novel titled “Hidden Faces”. Dali is not the only artist to play with pareidolia. The Wikipedia has a fascinating article about this artistic theme.

Sarcone, Gianni A. and Waeber, Marie-Jo Amazing visual illusions. Arcturus Publishing Ltd, 2011. http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1848378300/archimedeslab-21/

Wikipedia contributors Hidden faces. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hidden_faces&oldid=585474591

Dali, Salvador Hidden faces. London: Owen, 1973.

Mae West Room. Figueres Dali Theatre-Museum. http://www.salvador-dali.org/museus/figueres/en_visita-virtual_4.html

Wikipedia contributors Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=541433189

Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe Beach, memories and the method of loci go together so naturally

Even though I no longer live near Cottesloe, I make a point of visiting Sculpture by the Sea every year, with at least one of our kids in tow. We love it, and we love swimming at Cott Main Beach (not too deep though, we aren’t that daring). In the last few years I’ve visited with the child of ours who has as strong an interest in the sculptures as I do, so I’ve been able to take my time to really appreciate the pieces, and in doing this to memorize the sculptures seen, in context in their locations. This means that as I tour through the various highly memorable locations along the foreshore of one of Perth’s oldest beaches, I get to visually experience things that are there, and also things that once were there at that exact location. The organizers of the exhibition unavoidably re-use many specific locations for situating sculptures from year to year, so when I look at a sculpture I also often see in my mind’s eye a sculpture that was at that spot last year, or maybe in a year before that. This is an example of the unconscious or unintentional employment of the method of loci memory technique. I have written other posts at his blog about similar experiences of mine and our children in which we have memorized stuff with this or a similar method by accident, and I have even given a name to this phenomenon; involuntary method of loci memorization or IMLM for short.

Standing and looking at many locations along the Cottesloe Main Beach foreshore also evokes memories of family and personal visits to the beach in past years, in addition to the over-laying of more recent memories of the annual sculpture exhibition which has been operating in Cottesloe since 2005. Memories evoked include the time we ate fish and chips there when we were still unmarried, the day I unexpectedly met an elderly aunt (she’s long-dead now), then paddling with her and being shocked by finding a scallop that was unexpectedly alive, memories of many visits with my mother, a sibling and a grandmother which are sometimes also evoked by listening to a specific piece of music from the 1980s, and memories of swimming with my sibling at night in the cold fresh-water pool that was once situated near the groyne, the water tasting strangely sweet following the taste of salt water from swimming in the sea. I could point out the specific locations where I saw the dead whale and also where I touched the rough skin of a large dead shark that someone had displayed like a trophy at the shoreline, both events witnessed when I was a child. There probably isn’t a public place in Perth that evokes as many memories for me as Cottesloe Beach. If there is a neuron or a location within my synaesthete brain “for” Cottesloe Beach, it is surely thickly surrounded by many connections.

The 10th annual Sculpture by the Sea exhibition at Cottesloe will be open from March 7th to March 24th 2014. I can’t wait.  http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/exhibitions/cottesloe.aspx

The Art of Fashion and the Sound of Fashion

I’ve had the opportunity to have a good browse (while the kids are at school) of an exhibition of some interesting works of wearable art. Fashion isn’t one of my major interests, so I’m not sure just how new or original the idea of fashion garments as works of art might be. I’m guessing that the extreme fashion which the pop music icon Lady Gaga has become famous for could be considered wearable art, and I’ve also got to wonder whether this singer-songwriter’s engagement with such extreme originality in an area of visual art is in some way connected with her coloured music synaesthesia. Some synaesthesia researchers believe there is a link between creativity and synaesthesia, a theory that must surely be difficult to test, and they never seem to explain exactly how this connection might work. Living in Perth, Western Australia I doubt that I’ll ever get to view items from Gaga’s wardrobe,  but I did get to see the Art of Fashion exhibition at Lakeside Joondalup Shopping Centre, which is a part of the annual Joondalup Festival, which is organized by the City of Joondalup and is happening this weekend.

Does a synaesthete create differently, and does a synaesthete perceive works of artistic creation in ways that non-synaesthetes do not? I doubt that a clear-cut answer to that question is possible, but I suspect that a synaesthete might experience a more conscious awareness of cross-sensory effects. The unusual coloured asymmetric frill at one hip of a predominantly black dress designed by Kasia Kolikow in the Joondalup exhibition has a full and contrasting appearance which evokes the idea of expansion or air blowing, a movement which would seem odd to me if it were not accompanied by a sound. What type of sound? The transparent, airy frill with its day-glow yellows and salmon pinks (contrasting against the black of the dress titled “Never Sleep Again”) has colours that I have always associated with falsetto singing and other high-pitched musical sounds. This dress whistles. There is another outfit in the exhibition which has a title that brings to mind the notion of sound “Summer Pop Fizz” by Cynthia Chong, but my visual perception of the work  evokes extra-modal motion more than sound. A translation of sound and touch and temperature into a visual expressive art form must have been the origin of this whimsical brightly coloured top and shorts, inspired by ice-cold bubbling lemonade, but it doesn’t give me a chill. When I look at the squiggly shapes on the surface of these garments I see motion typical of the surface of turbulent liquid.

It doesn’t take much thought to figure out why the dress named after the species of fish Chelmonops truncatus designed by April Richards evokes a rhythmic sound, as the scalloped edges in contrasting colours spiralling around the dress are visually striking and highly rhythmic, but it’s less clear to me why this rhythmic sound should be an electronic keyboard sound like something out of a 1970’s pop tune by a girl singer. The idea of a dress that looks a bit like a fish or even a mermaid is perhaps an idea typical of pop culture from a more innocent age, and maybe this is why my unconscious mind makes this association. It’s surprising how noisy an exhibition of fashion garments and jewellery can be, so it is some respite that the one outfit in the group of Celene Bridge’s works on display which makes a noise only whispers. I believe Bridge should have thought twice about naming one of her outfits Leap of the Rabbit, because whenever I looked at it I could not help thinking of the French word “lapin” spoken in the softest whisper, repeated over and over. Everything about this amazing outfit has a soft quality – the fabric looks soft and lustrous, the outlines of the dress are feminine and gentle curves, the gorgeous rabbit-shaped sculptural details at the back of the skirt of the dress are soft curved shapes, the shoulder-hugging limpness of the fabric in the short cape and even the headpiece though grim in theme has curving lines. I think an outfit like this demands to have a name with sound symbolism that sounds as soft as the outfit looks, but sadly the English-language word “rabbit” is all wrong. It is a jagged, hard-sounding word, not appropriate as a name for an animal with a soft pelt. The French have more of a clue. I can think of no animal in the world softer to touch than a rabbit, so I’d say a rabbit deserves to be called a lapin.

I’m a little bit surprised that my unconscious mind has spontaneously offered up a French word to my conscious mind as a comment on the fashion outfit, because I don’t consider myself in any way proficient in the French language. I dropped out of French classes early in year 8 of high school, and year 8 was the extent of my formal teaching in that language, but I suspect that most people have a broader vocabulary in foreign languages than they realise.

The Art of Fashion exhibition will be on display up to the 31st of March 2012 (tomorrow) at Lakeside Joondalup Shopping City. It’s worth a look (and a listen) so don’t wait till it’s too late.

Urban Couture. City of Joondalup. http://www.joondalup.wa.gov.au/Explore/artsandevents/JoondalupFestival/UrbanCouture.aspx

Urban Couture Gallery.  http://www.joondalup.wa.gov.au/Explore/artsandevents/JoondalupFestival/UrbanCouture/UrbanCoutureGallery.aspx

Left anterior temporal lobe versus right anterior temporal lobe – does one really need to be autistic to have excellent visual memory?

I’m not a paid researcher and I don’t work in a university, so when I discover new things that help to make sense of my unusual visual processing experiences (various visual types of synaesthesia, IMLM, scene-concept synaesthesia, super-recognition, The Strange Phenomenon etc) it is often by accident as I go about my usual lifestyle. It was only an accident many years ago that I found out that synaesthesia is a neuropsychological phenomenon recognized by science, when I was reading about another subject that interested me at the time, and synaesthesia was mentioned in passing and described in a quaint footnote. The other day I was at my local library looking thru a pile of New Scientist magazines to select issues that I hadn’t read. I didn’t realise that I’d borrowed one from 2010, but when I opened it up at an article about research that has demonstrated how visual memory can be enhanced I wasn’t sorry that I took that old issue off the shelf.

This article, which sadly is behind a paywall, but can probably be easily accessed in hard-copy thru any good public library, is not about face memory or face recognition, but I think it is still an interesting clue about what might be different about my brain. As I’ve written before in articles that I’ve published here, it is my belief that there is a general enhancement in the functioning of the right temporal lobe areas of my brain, which includes the fusiform gyrus on the right, which includes the fusiform face area on the right. I guess my fusiform gyrus on the left is probably working well also. The thing that makes this article so interesting to me is that it seems to show that at least part of the left and right temporal lobes work in opposition to each other, and when the activity of the right is boosted while the activity of the left is inhibited the result is an enhancement of visual memory. Could a naturally-occuring skewed relationship between left and right in the temporal lobes be an explanation for my test scores consistent with me being a super-recognizer of faces? Has some bright-spark researcher at a uni somewhere done a version of the transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) study discussed in this article, exploring face memory? If I was a researcher that is what I’d be looking at.

The other aspect of this article that I find striking is the view of autism that it presents. Science magazines are full of stories about autism research, and as a reader of these publications I’ve read my fair share of such stories, but I’ve never before read an article depicting autism as a natural enhancement in visual memory. I guess such a benefit of autism might be implied in the many books and articles that have been published about autistic savants who create realistic art (Stephen Wiltshire and Gregory Blackstock would be some fine examples), and no doubt an enhanced visual memory could also be behind the many autistic people who have superior navigation ability, but what I’ve generally found is that most books and articles about autism don’t delve very far into brain-based explanations of autistic enhancement of visual memory. As I recall, behavioural explanations are far more common than neuropsychological explanations – autistic people’s special visual abilities are often dismissively described as being the result of obsessive, repetitive learning. Clearly there is more to it than that. In this article by Sujata Gupta in New Scientist autism is explicitly linked with enhancement in visual memory. So does one need to be autistic to have superior visual memory? And how does this all relate to face memory? What is the relationship between autism and super-recognition, if any? I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for researchers to tackle these questions.

Gupta, Sujata Little brain zap, big memory boost. New Scientist. August 14th 2010. Issue 2773 p.16.

Online reference: Skull electrodes give memory a boost. New Scientist. 13 August 2010 by Sujata Gupta Magazine issue 2773. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727733.900-skull-electrodes-give-memory-a-boost.html

It appears that the study described in the above article has not been published in a journal yet, but below is the details of a paper about a similar study co-authored by Richard Chi:

Paulo S. Boggio, Felipe Fregni, Claudia Valasek, Sophie Ellwood, Richard Chi, Jason Gallate, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, and Allan Snyder
Temporal Lobe Cortical Electrical Stimulation during the Encoding and Retrieval Phase Reduces False Memories.
PLoS ONE. 2009; 4(3): e4959. Published online 2009 March 25. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004959 PMCID: PMC2655647
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2655647/?tool=pubmed

Gender should be the only difference between these faces

The photograph at the beginning of the Boston Globe news story detailed below is particularly interesting to me, a person who has a natural interest in faces, because the two faces photographed are probably the world’s only example of a set of two human faces in which the only difference between their faces should be a gender-related difference. I don’t know if there are any other sets of identical twins in the world in which one and only one twin is a transgender person who has been treated with a puberty-blocking medication which halts the face-sculpting effects of sex hormones, leaving one twin on the usual developmental trajectory and the other retaining a face that could be judged to be of the opposite gender to the one that both twins were born with. In a nutshell, these are identical twins of different genders. Advances in the way that transgendered people are treated by the medical profession has made the impossible possible. The life story of Nicole Maines (formerly Wyatt Maines) and Jonas Maines and their family is something remarkable. I recommend this fascinating news article.

For over a year I have been on a quest to get a definite answer to the question of whether or not I am a super-recognizer, after unexpectedly getting perfect scores on some face recognition tests. One thing that is possibly a characteristic of a superrecognizer’s perceptions of faces is that I often involuntarily notice that the face of a person who is new to me looks similar to the face of a person whose face is in my memory, sometimes very old memories. This is very much like the experience of recognition of the face of the same person seen on two different occasions. The thing that I find interesting about my pseudo-recognition of a new face is that it transcends gender (like the considerable remaining similarities in the appearances of the faces of Jonas and Nicole). I’m just as likely to notice close similarity between the face of a new person and a face in my memory that is of the opposite gender as I’m likely to notice a close similarity between memorized and newly seen faces of people of the same gender. It’s not that I’m blind to gender, but my mind is able to process gender characteristics of faces and the essential genetically based unique “character” of faces separately, and keep these different types of influence on the appearance of faces quite separate in my thinking. Some examples of this noticing of cross-gender facial similarity would be the time when I was watching a documentary about the Australian rock band The Angels staging a comeback tour with aged and conflicted performers. I was struck by a similarity between the face of Doc Neeson and one of the older matriarchs of our family, who also had Celtic heritage. I hope Mr Neeson never reads this. Another example would be the time when I was viewing a painting by Salvador Dali in which he used an image of the face of the writer Voltaire, in an elderly and cheerful state. Voltaire’s face reminded me so much of the face, and the smile, of another of our family’s matriarchs, who like Voltaire was born in Europe. I think this resemblance owes more to a common lack of teeth and advanced age and a good mood in spite of these things, than it owes to a huge resemblance between unique facial appearance. Both female matriarchs had wide faces. I believe that The Strange Phenomenon, which I described in the first post in this blog, is another example of involuntarily seeing a cross-gender facial resemblance.

I’m also able to process the appearance of a face resulting from colouring quite separately from the look of the actual face. I believe other people are more influenced by things like skin colour, eye colour and hair when recognizing people than I am. My focus is on the face. Lots of people believe there is a close resemblance between the actress Tilda Swinton and the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I think these people are overly influenced by the redhead thing. When I look at Swinton I think “pale and thin” rather than “Gillard-like”.

Perhaps a high degree of attention to features of appearance other than the pure look of a face is a warning sign of poor face memory. We know that prosopagnosics often identify people by non-facial aspects of appearance such as clothes, hair and glasses. Do they also place greater emphasis on colouring, age and gender, or do they also have also trouble processing these aspects of personal appearance?

Led by the child who simply knew.

by Bella English
Boston Globe
December 11, 2011
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html?s_campaign=sm_tw

Wikipedia contributors, “Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire,”  Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Slave_Market_with_the_Disappearing_Bust_of_Voltaire&oldid=461577243 (accessed December 14, 2011).

Tilda Swinton totally looks like Julia Gillard (Australian PM)  http://totallylookslike.icanhascheezburger.com/2010/10/07/tilda-swinton-julia-gillard-australian-pm/

I’ve just discovered a resource for people who have an isolated problem of getting lost or inability to orient in their physical environment

While I was looking at online resources for people who have prosopagnosia, or a disability in recognizing faces, I came across what looks like an important resource for people who have another isolated disability which is sometimes associated with prosopagnosia,  an inability to orient in a physical environment. The title of this website is “Developmental topographical disorientation: a lifelong condition”. The term “developmental” denotes that this is a condition that those affected naturally and probably genetically are destined to develop. Most developmental brain-based conditions manifest in early childhood. Prosopagnosia, synaesthesia and autism are some examples of neurodevelopmental conditions. I guess there is probably an acquired, non-developmental version of this disorientation condition that can be caused by brain damage or stroke. I also guess that developmental topographical disorientation would be a different condition to the type of disorientation that results from altered states of consciousness or from an acquired type of visual agnosia that results from dementia or Benson’s syndrome. The website that I’ve discovered appears to be run by two highly qualified academics and researchers who work in universities in Canada who appear to be experts in this condition: Assistant Professor Giuseppe Iaria and Professor Jason J S Barton.

I think developmental topographical disorientation would have to be the same type of problem that the famous neurologist, writer and prosopagnosic Dr Oliver Sacks experiences and has written about in his book The Mind’s Eye and in his interesting article about prosopagnosia which was published in the New Yorker magazine. The scientific study of this type of problem is clearly in it’s infancy, and one problem that is often a feature of new areas of academic inquiry is a lack of standardization of the terminology. I’m really not sure which is the proper term for this orientation problem, or whether there are genuinely different varieties of this problem which have their own terms. Iaria and Barton use the term “developmental topographical disorientation”, Sacks used the term “topographical agnosia” and Sacks wrote that Dr D. Frank Benson, who was the first person to formally describe Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy used the term “environmental agnosia” to describe patients who get lost in their own neighbourhoods or homes, and I’ve come across the term “agnosia for scenes” which seems to be the same type of thing. I’ve read about people who can’t recognize landcapes or scenes, and also people who can’t recognize specific landmarks, which seem to be different visual disabilities. It’s all very confusing, and I hope some clarity and standardization in this area of research will become clear, for the sake of the people who experience these issues.

I’m interested in this stuff not because I have any problems in orienting, but because I experience one type of synaesthesia in which visual memories of scenes of landscapes, some of them very old memories, are the “concurrents” or additional synaesthesia experiences triggered by thinking about specific concepts or performing very specific fine-motor household chores. I have fully described these types of synaesthesia experiences, which to my knowledge have never before been scientifically described, in a number of different posts at this blog (click on the applicable tags to find them). My guess is that my ability to orient using memories of scenes should be superior, or the opposite of topographical disorientation for a number of reasons. There seems to be a link between prosopagnosia and topographical disorientation, and I’m the opposite of a prosopagnosic in that I’ve attained some perfect scores in some tests of face recognition and thus could be a super-recognizer, and so if face and scene recognition are linked I should also have great scene recognition. I also have synaesthesia that involves visual memories of scenes, and according to research about syneasthesia, superior ability is often found in synaesthetes in the cognitive functions which are involved with their synesthesia. I also believe that an awareness of scenes and a sense of place has an unusual prominence in the way that I think and experience life. This website that I’ve just discovered links to some tests of orientation ability, so I hope I will be able to find some more spare time to have a go at these tests to see whether my prediction about my ability in this area might be true.

One last comment about the Developmental topographical disorientation website; I wonder if it is only a coincidence that two of the artworks displayed at this website, which both illustrate the concept of spatial landscapes and orienting, are the creations of two synaesthete artists – David Hockney and Vincent van Gogh? I wonder, do synaesthete artists display a more developed sense of space and place? How could one research this question in an objective manner? And what kind of art would people who have topographical disorientation create? Could this condition be diagnosed through art or drawing tests?

Developmental topographical disorientation: a lifelong condition    http://www.gettinglost.ca/Home.html

Some thoughts after viewing a simple little painting – Upward by Wassily Kandinsky

A while ago I had the opportunity to view first-hand some famous paintings when the Guggenheim collection toured Australia. It was a wonderful opportunity to see some artworks that I had only ever been able to see in books, which isn’t the same thing as seeing a picture displayed on a wall. I probably shouldn’t look at paintings or listen to music while knowing too much about the painter or the composer, because when an artistic creation of a synaesthete evokes a synaesthetic response from my mind, I’m then left wondering if this is due to the power of expectation rather than a discovery that I would have made in any circumstance. I already knew the painter Wassily Kandinsky, a pioneer of abstract art, was a synaesthete, and after looking at Kandinsky’s Upward for a while, it started making noises at me. Why shouldn’t a painting that has a type of movement as it’s title evoke a bit of visual movement -> sound synaesthesia? As my eye followed the curved lines of the painting upward and downward in a bumpy, interrupted cycle, the times when the curved line met an abrupt end against a straight line caused a “bonk” or “boink”  type noise.

This movement synaesthesia wasn’t the only thing about this painting that made me wonder about atypical neurological processes. As I looked at this painting I realised that I was seeing examples of types of things that my mind seems to be unusually good at perceiving, or unusually focused upon. A face can be discerned in this painting, if you use your imagination a bit (blue eye, red lip, black lip). Last year I shocked myself by getting some perfect scores in two face recognition tests. After doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that this is due to some hyperconnectivity in my brain and it is surely related to my synaesthesia. In this deceptively simple painting I can also see some letters of the alphabet (graphemes), one inverted. I appear to be the carrier of a gene “for” being unusually capable in the areas of reading, writing and languages, all areas of learning that involve letters and alphabets.

There is something else grapheme-related that I find very interesting about in this painting. I have personification synaesthesia, and one of the two letters of the alphabet in this painting is the one that is the most strongly personified in my mind; the letter “E”. It is also the most commonly used letter in the English language. I’m not sure if this is related. I do know that how commonly a letter of the alphabet is used is in the English language does influence another type of synaesthesia – grapheme -> colour synaesthesia. The most commonly used letters of the alphabet tend to be associated with the more basic and primary colours, while the less commonly used colours of the alphabet like “V” or “Z” tend to be linked to secondary and more complex colours like purple or gray. Anyhow, to me the letter “e” (upper and lower case), the most common letter of the alphabet looks like the happiest letter of the alphabet. In my mind it looks like a face with a big smile that is facing toward the right, somewhat like a smiling face in profile. Do synaesthesia researchers know that personified letters and numbers can have a physical orientation as well as having characteristics like gender, age and personality? If they don’t, they should.  In the painting Upward the capital letter “E” is one half of a platform that the face sits on top of, and the face and the “E” both have bits beside them that balance them out, with the face and the “E” facing in opposite directions, giving the picture a kind of balance. Looking at the way the elements in this painting are arranged, I find it very hard to believe that Kandinsky didn’t see a face in the letter “E” the way I do. Did Kandinsky have ordinal linguistic personification?

Another thing that is noticeable in this painting is the play with colours. There are colours varying in saturation and colours blended in graded adjacent segments and similar colours grouped together. Colour was clearly very important in Kandinsky’s work. When I was a child I was fascinated with colours, and I loved to make pictures with the large metal trays of watercolour paints that I was given. I believe a study has found that synaesthetes have an unusual ability to discriminate colours.

I can see a face, a facial expression, some graphemes and a focus on colours in this painting. Is it just a coincidence that faces, graphemes and colour are things that are processed in one part of the brain, the fusiform gyrus? Was there something unusual about Kandinsky’s fusiform gyrus? We already know that he experienced colour-related synaesthesia, so we know something was “up” with Wassily’s brain. Was Kandinsky more creative because of his synaesthesia? A lot of people believe the two traits are connected. Did Wassily Kandinsky have a mind that was unusually focused on, or perceptive of, or mixed up about colours, faces, visual motion and letters (graphemes)? I’m just not motivated enough to wade through his voluminous writings about art theory to find out. I only know that Kandinsky never tired of writing about his synaesthesia and other esoteric matters. I think we would have had a lot in common.

Upward by Wassily Kandinsky 1929 http://www.wassilykandinsky.net/work-203.php

YouTube video that can evoke hearing motion synaesthesia http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/hLhuRIeHj6Q?fs=1&hl=en_US

Wikipedia contributors Fusiform gyrus. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fusiform_gyrus&oldid=419089814