Kandinsky and His Synesthesia

By: Maddy Hodges

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Suddenly, the paintbox hissed with anger. Wait, what? You're probably very confused and thinking,"Since when can a paintbox hiss?" But the abstract artist, Wassily Kandinsky wasn't confused at all, for he had synesthesia.

Kandinsky's Childhood

Wassily Kandinksy was a famous artist who painted mostly abstract. He was born in Moscow, Russia in December, 1866. Being very fascinated and stimulated by color and music, his dad enrolled him in piano, cello, and drawing lessons at a very young age. He also traveled with his family to see Italian cities such as Venice, Rome, and Florence. When he was five, Kandinsky's parents divorced and he moved to Odessa to live with his aunt. He attended Grekov Odessa Art School and graduated. He also went to University of Moscow for law and economics and graduated there as well. When he was thirty, he was offered a professorship at University of Dorpat, where he began painting studies- life drawings, sketching, etc. That was the start of his career.

What Is Synesthesia?

Synesthesia is the condition where one sense is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses. You probably haven't heard about this disorder because only about one in 2000 people have it. Also, more woman then men have been diagnosed. There are different types of it, too. Here are some or them:

  • Grapheme-Color- your mind creates colors for letters and numbers. Every synesthete's letters and numbers have different colors, though. For example, the letter , A , could be red when someone else's could be blue. This is the most common type of synesthesia.
  • Sound-to-Color- This is just like it sounds. The sounds you hear have a color. Or it could be the other way around where your colors(green for example) has a sound(a doorbell).
  • Lexical-Gustatory- You taste flavors for things you hear, or if you see a word or picture. For example, you can hear a phone ring, see the blue sky, or see the word "Hello" written on paper, and you might taste lemonade.
  • Mirror Touch- Your friend might get tapped on the shoulder, and you might feel the tap on yours. Your mind pretty much just copies the physical feeling you see. This is one of the rarest types of synesthesia.
  • Ordinal-Linguistic Personification- Your brain creates personalities for objects, letters, numbers, colors, etc. Your number eight could be a flirt, three is shy, and four could be rude. This another one of the rarest types of synesthesia.
  • Number-Form- Your mind makes a mental map of numbers, days of the week, months, etc. "The number line for me is straight, left to right, from 0 to 9. when it hits ten, it starts going up slanted, as if on a hill. When it hits 21, it curves toward the left, and curves every ten numbers until 100. When it hits 101, it goes slanted up like 10-20 does, except it never curves after that, and the higher numbers are blurry until I look at them closely." - @jaz93a on www.experienceproject.com
  • Spatial Sequence- You see number sequences in your head in space or just floating around you, not in anywhere in particular. It sort of just appears in your vision.
  • Auditory Visual- This is what Kandinsky was diagnosed with. Your mind makes mental images of the things or sounds you hear. For example, if he heard Wagner's Lohengrin he might have painted a picture of what he heard. That's how he was inspired by music because sometimes he painted what he heard.

What Effected His Work?

Because his father enrolled him into piano, cello, and drawing lessons at a very early age, he was always into music and art. He believed painting was just as important as music. He also stated that both were emotional and spiritual experiences. During the years, including his childhood, he formed a very intense relationship with music and color, which led him to becoming the "Father of Abstract Art." But synesthesia also effected his work. Not everyone has the view of things he had and some of his artworks are of things he saw through synesthesia.

Some Work Inspirations

There were several things that inspired Kandinsky to create the masterpieces he did. In 1885, Kandinsky went to see an exhibit of French Impressionists. There, he saw Claude Monet's Haystacks at Giverny; that was his first experience of non representational art. Music also inspired him. Hearing Wagner's Lohengrin at Bolshoi Theatre, he decided to move to Munich and devote himself full-time to art instead of law. When he was young, he traveled with his family to see Italian cities such as Venice, Rome, and Florence. Some of the things he saw there inspired him. The Muscovite buildings(in Moscow) also did, as well. Colors, emotions, and synesthesia inspired him because he had a view of them that was totally different than everyone else's.

Several of Kandinsky's Artworks

How Did He Die?

Sadly, in Nueilly-sur-Seine, Nanterre, France, 1944, Wassily Kandinsky died of a stroke in his studio. He lived to be seventy seven, but millions of people wanted him to live longer. Kandinsky had cerebrovascular disease(a condition caused by problems that effect the blood supply to the brain). However, he has made an impact on our world and our art today. He has been an inspiration to others. Kandinsky wasn't just an abstract artist, he was the Father of Abstract Art, and is art and story will never be forgotten.

Other Famous People Diagnosed With Synesthesia

  • Tori Amos(Singer)
  • Leonard Bernstein(Composer)
  • Mary J. Blige(Singer and Actress)
  • Duke Ellington(Composer)
  • David Hockney(Artist)
  • Billy Joel(Singer and Musician
  • Franz List(Composer)
  • Marilyn Monroe(Actress)
  • Korsakov(Composer)
  • Geoffrey Rush(Actor)
  • Van Gogh(Artist)
  • Van Halen(Musician)
  • Pharrell Williams(Singer)
  • Stevie Wonder(Singer and Musician)
  • Kanye West(Rapper)
  • Micheal Gagne(taste visualizations in Ratatouille)

Famous People Who Might Have/Had Synesthesia

  • Bob Dylan(Singer and Musician)
  • Jimi Hendrix(Singer and Musician)
  • Victor Hugo(Writer)
  • Frank Lloyd(Architect)
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne(Writer)
  • Fredrick Nietzsche(Philosopher)
  • Nikola Tesla(Inventor and Engineer)

Kandinsky Quotes

"Color is a power which directly influences the soul."

"There is no must in art because art is free."

"Everything starts from a dot."

"Each color lives by its mysterious life."

"Color is the keyboard, eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another,to cause vibrations in the soul."

"Music is the ultimate teacher."

"Color cannot stand alone."

"To create a work of art is to create the world."

Bibliography and Sources


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Chting, H. (2000). Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-1944: A revolution in painting. Köln: Taschen.

Mass, W. (2003). A mango-shaped space: A novel. New York: Little, Brown.