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colorful moods

August 29, 2011

If you combine art therapy with the active imagination of Robert Johnson’s Inner Work, one possible result is a tarot-like deck of cards created by you with collaged imagery that is meaningful only to you. That is the premise of a book I’m reading, Soul Collage Evolving, by Seena B. Frost.

The book seems to bring together lots of ideas I’ve been working with for a while, so I’m looking forward to engaging with her process.

But I initially got stuck because you’re supposed to use images that you find in magazines or that are stock photography. I started thinking about the magazines that I have, and they rarely have illustrations or photographs of human beings, or even other animals. And then I started thinking about how I don’t think I need personified images. Even though everyone else seems to need them. So what would I be using instead? Abstract collages made of colored paper, some solid, some patterned.

I felt a sudden urge to put one together, according to my own vision. (I’ve been collecting paper from magazines in solid colors and patterns, and paint chips, for at least 10 years now. I also have a selection of patterned wrapping paper, and patterned art papers. ) So I pulled together a group of scraps that all felt like they had the same mood – joyous — then tried out various configurations on my lap desk. Here’s a photo of the best one.

Then I tried to figure out how to make a card out of it. I glued down several scraps, on a card I cut from a manila file folder. Only to realize that the change in background color, from the textured black of my lap desk to the matte manila, made most of my scraps look drab and kind of ugly. If I tone down the background color of the cards using either watercolors or colored pencils, I’m not sure if the glue will stick anymore. So I need to figure something out.

Anyway, these cards-that-will-be are not Soul Collage cards. These cards represent my moods, some of which are complex enough that I have given them names, and think of them almost like people. I realized today that most of the art I’ve created in the last five years has been an attempt to express these moods. But always abstractly. In fact you might say I’ve been creating Abstract Expressionist art. Although I was familiar with the work of painters like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Lee Krasner, somehow the name of their movement never stuck in my mind. Two weeks ago, I picked up a book in the library solely because it was about a woman painter. I had never heard of her, and did not recognize the description of her as an Abstract Expressionist, but it sounded interesting, so I took it home and read it: Joan Mitchell, Lady Painter: A Life, by Patricia Albers.

Joan Mitchell had synesthesia. Over 60 different types of synesthesia have been reported, but very few have been scientifically studied. I first heard about synesthesia in 1994, when I read, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, by Richard E. Cytowic. I loved the idea of synesthesia, and it seemed terribly unfair that I did not have it, according to the examples cited in his book.  I’ve retained an interest in the topic, and the more I’ve read about it, the more I’ve wondered if I do have some odd variation of it. I definitely don’t have the kind where you perceive letters and numbers as always being colored, and I don’t think I see colors when I hear music (like Joan Mitchell did), but I did read about something that John Mitchell and I do seem to have in common. Patricia Albers wrote:

“In addition, Joan had relatively rare emotion-color synesthesia (also called emotionally-mediated synesthesia), in which mental states take on, or rather are, certain hues.” (p. 56)

It isn’t clear from this passage if Ms. Albers means that each mood has one color. My moods are a complex mosaic of colors, never just one.

But I think I finally understand what it is I’m picking up on when I say, “those colors don’t want to be together”. Everything creative I do revolves around making sure everybody [all the elements, motifs, colors] “gets along”; I would never make art with colors that don’t want to be together. It’s painful for me to look at art made with colors that don’t want to be together — it’s discordant, it’s prickly, it’s yucky.

I have seen a lot of art with colors that don’t want to be together, and I couldn’t figure out why the artist would make something like that. Couldn’t they feel the wrongness of it? But if I’m a synesthete, and they aren’t, that would explain a lot. [Wikipedia says: “It is estimated that synesthesia could possibly be as prevalent as 1 in 23 persons across its range of variants.”]

When I skimmed the Wikipedia article on synesthesia so that I could link to it, I quickly saw another variation that I definitely have: spatial sequence/number form, where “numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise).”

I guess now I have to explore where else my perceptions may be cross-wired. And then see if there’s anything I can do with that.


Examples of Joan Mitchell’s paintings.


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