8 Famous Artists With Synesthesia

June 26, 2017



By Prism Prism

You’ve probably heard of it, but few people actually live their lives with it. Synesthesia is a condition where the brain links senses together in an abnormal way, blending associations and stimuli to bridge senses that are otherwise separated in other people. Synesthetes live in a completely different understanding of the world around us–a world where sounds have flavors and days of the week are a different hue.

On Wednesday, the second installment of LATE @ Frost Science will not only spotlight the human eye in their current ‘SEEING: What Are You Looking At?” exhibit, but will delve into this interest condition with interactive performances and enlightening conversations after hours at everyone’s current museum obsession. Ramping up for the party, let’s take a look at some of history’s most creative artists with synesthesia:

Vladimir Nabokov

Judging by his intricate style for prose, it’s no surprise that the beloved Russian author of favorites like Lolita had synesthesia to carry him through the world of words. His association? Each letter’s sound produced a different hue.

Kanye West

Seeing that he can’t stand not be involved in something, we’re not surprised Mr. West is a synesthete. Apparently, musical instruments generate a different color when played. To him: “pianos are blue and bass and snares are white; bass lines are like dark brown, dark purple.”

Vincent Van Gogh

I’m sure no one is astonished to find that one of history’s most colorful artists lived with this condition. Unfortunately for Vincent Van Gogh, though, he lived in a time where it was considered a form of insanity and he saw it as a form of suffering rather than an attribute.

Duke Ellington

For someone as influential as Duke Ellington, seeing color was probably one of the greatest things about him, especially when working in a group and leading them along his path of audio/visual discovery. Apparently, he could also see the textures each individual musician’s notes would emit.

Billy Joel

The New York-born American favorite lives with two types of synesthesia, one where he can think of melodies as warm or cool color tunes, and another where each vowel in each word calls to mind a different color.

Edgar Degas

If you take a look at the progression of Degas’ career, you’ll notice a distinct change in brushstrokes from beginning to end. Many people attribute this to his deteriorating vision, but others connect it to his synesethia’s growing power as he grew older.


Photo by NBC.

Pharrell Williams

One of the only synesthetes that sees his condition as a valuable increase to his talent and creative vision (pun intended). He uses his ability to associate sound with colors as a way to make sure notes are in tune or produced correctly.

Jimi Hendrix

We saved our personal favorite for last. In such a short amount of time, Hendrix left his footprint on the music industry in a way that will never be forgotten. He would speak of music, chords, and harmonies in colors. His favorite? E7#9 which was…purple.

Make sure to snag your tickets for the LATE @ Frost Science jam on July 12th and see how you may know a synesthete too!