Synesthesia is a psychological phenomenon that happens when you experience one of your senses through another. Everyone experiences this to some extent – ever hear a song that gave you goosebumps? – but in rare cases it is much less subtle. Highly synesthetic individuals might see shapes when they hear music, or see a color when they hear a specific word or phrase.

Kandinsky, Traverse Line, 1923

Kandinsky, Traverse Line, 1923

The Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky experienced a rare and very powerful form of synesthesia, seeing vivid, detailed shapes and colors while listening to music (especially jazz). He painted the abstract geometric shapes and colors only he could see, pioneering abstraction in art and teaching artists his unique way of “seeing” at the legendary Bauhaus school.


For the in-class exercise, you will paint an original abstract composition (8″ x 10″, in your sketchbook) related to each of three songs (playlist here). Interpret the rhythm, mood, and style of the music through line, form and color.


Photograph and upload your compositions in a post on OpenLab. Label each composition with the title of the associated song, and write 2-3 sentences for each describing how you came up with your visual interpretations. You only need to fully complete one, but you will receive extra credit equivalent to a full homework assignment if you finish all three.  Make sure to tag the post with the “Exercise/Homework: Synesthesia” category!