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Paintings can be heard too!

india Updated: Sep 05, 2006 13:19 IST
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Artists such as Wassily Kandinsky appeal to more than just the visual sense because their work can also be heard -- at least by some people, a British neuroscientist said on Monday.

Synaesthetes are individuals in whom one sense triggers another. Their senses are connected, so as well as seeing a painting such as Composition VIII, 1923 by the Russian painter, the work also triggers sounds.

"What Kandinsky wanted to do was for it to appeal to hearing as well," Dr Jamie Ward, a neuroscientist at University College London (UCL), told a British science conference.

Whether or not Kandinsky was a synaesthete is not known but Ward said the artist certainly knew about the sensory phenomenon.

Synaesthetes make up only about one to two per cent of the population but Ward believes everyone links music and art unconsciously.                         

To test the theory, in a series of experiments he asked synaesthetes to draw and describe their vision of music played by the New London Orchestra.


Other people without synaesthesia, who acted as a control group, did the same and a professional artist created animations of the images related to the music.

"We played them musical notes and got them to draw and describe what they see," Ward said.

When more than 200 people were shown 100 images and asked to choose the animations that best suited the music they consistently selected the images from the synaesthetes.

"It's almost as if everybody can appreciate these synaesthetic images even if they don't have synaesthesia," he added.

People are born with synaesthesia, which runs in families. Ward and other scientists believe that by studying the phenomenon they can learn more about how the senses and thoughts are linked in the brain.

"Kandinsky wanted to make visual art more like music -- more abstract. He also hoped that his paintings would be heard by his audiences," Ward added.