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A Dance of Musical Color

Artists with a certain neurological condition put all their senses to work.

Spring 2009
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Kandinsky, Three Riders in Red, Blue and Black, synesthesia

Courtesy of McMaster University Collection, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada; Digital Image: Roy Timm Photography

A DANCE OF MUSICAL COLOR

is what Wassily Kandinsky aimed to portray in Three Riders in Red, Blue and Black (1911), a woodcut inspired by the artist’s neurological condition—synesthesia—in which stimuli trigger perception by the “wrong” sense, allowing the perceiver to “see” sounds or “taste” words. Now an Oxford University study has linked the condition to four regions of the genome, including two chromosomes that are associated with autism and dyslexia. The study also shows a strong hereditary component, confirming anecdotal evidence described by Vladimir Nabokov (a synesthete, as were his mother and son) in his 1951 memoir.

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