What does Synaesthesia Mean?

Cassidy Curtis has synaesthesia.
--photo by Veronica Lucas

Before I knew how to pronounce this word correctly, I would not say it. And, before I knew what it meant, I could not relate it to the Art Gallery it is named for. After research, I have found an amazing connection and understanding. The Art Gallery: Synaesthesia is compiled of 2D, 3D, interactive techniques, installations, virtual reality, multimedia, telecommunications, web art and animation.

In my pursuit to understand the term of “synaesthesia,” I learned that this is, in fact, a medical diagnosis. I was also lucky to have found an amazing resource: a man with synaesthesia. Cassidy Curtis is currently working as an animator, and I was able to conduct an interview with him at a café here at SIGGRAPH. I could not resist asking him to explain how to say this word correctly. From there, his information was so generous and insightful, truly allowing an understanding.

Synaesthesia is a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another, as when the hearing of a sound produces the visualization of a color. Cassidy explains that many people have this diagnosis, but that each situation is particular to the person. He sees letters and numbers as colors. There is never a time that he looks at writing without seeing each letter possess a specific color. Almost all synthaesthetes have relations to color; in some cases a certain sound evokes a color, or even a certain sensation.

This led directly into the fact that it titles this year’s SIGGRAPH, and he loved the idea. The presence of synaesthesia was first discovered in the late 19 th century. At this time, because of the nature of this diagnosis, research was unable to go as far as desired. Technology was unable to carry this research.

So, now more than ever, Cassidy thinks, is an absolutely perfect time to bring about the phenomenon of synaesthesia. Through technology and science, there is now begins to be an understanding of this diagnosis. Synaesthesia titles the Art Gallery perfectly because advances in the computer science realm run hand in hand with the advances with the diagnosis of synaesthesia. They are both at a point of true growth and insight. Artists are able to use technology to successfully recreate the ways in which one sense evokes another.

Artists are fascinated by this phenomenon and have dedicated their lives to this research and “recreating” artwork expressing synaesthesia. To Cassidy, success in copying this “vision” has been unsuccessful because of its complexity. Expressing the details is confusing to those who cannot experience them. The fascination stems from the inability to be a synaesthete. Walking through the Art Gallery is like seeing through the eyes of a synaesthete.






related links

Cassidy Curtis' homepage

related reports


This site is maintained by ACM SIGGRAPH Reports.
Last updated 8/10/04.

The ACM SIGGRAPH Reporter program is sponsored by ACM SIGGRAPH.

Live coverage of SIGGRAPH made possible by the generous loan of cf Cybershot digital cameras from SONY, and laptop computers from NCSA.