synesthesia, synchronicity, and yellow wallpaper

Synchronicity. That's what Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way calls it. Not coincidence, but synchronicity.

I first heard of synesthesia when I was in a college literature class. We were reading The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon in which people experience a blending of two or more of the five senses. For example you might taste words, see sounds, or hear colors.

An excerpt from The Yellow Wallpaper:

But there is something else about that paper—the smell! I noticed it the moment we came into the room, but with so much air and sun it was not bad. Now we have had a week of fog and rain, and whether the windows are open or not, the smell is here.

It creeps all over the house.

I find it hovering in the dining-room, skulking in the parlor, hiding in the hall, lying in wait for me on the stairs.

It gets into my hair.

Even when I go to ride, if I turn my head suddenly and surprise it—there is that smell!

Such a peculiar odor, too! I have spent hours in trying to analyze it, to find what it smelled like.

It is not bad—at first, and very gentle, but quite the subtlest, most enduring odor I ever met.

In this damp weather it is awful, I wake up in the night and find it hanging over me.

It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell.

But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the COLOR of the paper! A yellow smell.

Georgia O'Keeffe | Red and Orange Streak, 1919

Georgia O'Keeffe | Red and Orange Streak, 1919

I was always fascinated by synesthesia because I thought that my grandma's house smelled green. I don't have synesthesia but certain colors do evoke specific smells for me. I think for everyone our senses (especially sight, smell, and taste) are very connected. I mean doesn't food taste better when it looks pretty and smells good?

I wrote a paper about synthesthesia for that literature class and I've always taken notice anytime I run across other examples of it. In Georgia O'Keeffe by Randall Griffin, I ran across this:

According to O'Keeffe, Red and Orange Streak was inspired by her Texas memories of 'the cattle in the pens lowing for the calves day and night... It was loud and raw under the stars in that wide empty country.' It exemplifies her interest in synaesthesia, the use of form and color to evoke sound. She had first discovered the concept at Teachers College in 1914-15, when she was walking past one of Bement's classes. Hearing music coming from the room, she 'opened the door and went in. A low-toned record was being played and the students were asked to make a drawing from what they heard. So I sat down and made a drawing, too Then he played a very different kind of record - a sort of high soprano piece - for another quick drawing. This gave me an idea that I was very interested to follow later - the idea that music could be translated into something for the eye.'

Here's a few others in her music series:

Georgia O'Keeffe |  Music, Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918

Georgia O'Keeffe |  Music, Pink and Blue No. 1, 1918

Georgia O'Keeffe |   Music, Pink and Blue No. 2,  1918

Georgia O'Keeffe |   Music, Pink and Blue No. 2,  1918

Georgia O'Keeffe |  Blue and Green Music, 1919/21

Georgia O'Keeffe |  Blue and Green Music, 1919/21

I'm also reading Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe by Laurie Lisle. It takes a few more liberties in interpretation of Georgia but a good read. (Though I'm starting to feel a bit crazy for attempting to read a 400 page book in such a short time!) Here's a passage referencing The Shelton, a skyscraper in NYC where Georgia and Alfred lived for awhile:

It's interesting to note that Georgia wanted to continue to live without a kitchen of her own. She was familiar with the writings of the visionary feminist and socialist Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who proposed that buildings be equipped with facilities for communal cooking, cleaning, and child care so as to free women of domestic drudgery-- and the Shelton provided all but the last of those services. At the time, Georgia had taken on more responsibility in running the Lake George household half the year, and she most likely didn't want to be burdened with similar duties in the winter as well.

So there I am back around again to Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Yellow Wallpaper. Julia Cameron would probably say it's a sign. Didn't I create some yellow wallpaper just last month? That's synchronicity for ya!

crystal moody | yellow wallpaper
crystal moody | yellow wallpaper