two synesthetes, 100 years apart
finding a kindred spirit in the past

Comparing with Kandinsky (2015)

Wassily Kandinsky (b. 1866, Russia; d. 1944, France) is widely believed by researchers to have been a synesthete. Among his writings, we have records of his thoughts on the relationship of multisensory connections in art. He presented and taught these concepts as fact during his career, demonstrating their absoluteness in his mind. In his 1912 text Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Kandinsky writes several pages filled with detailed attributes of personality and presence for several of the basic colors.

From this passage and several examples of his abstract artwork, I created a personality profile for each hue. I compared this to my own perceptions of the same type, noting similarities and differences. Then, I created two pieces of digital artwork for each color–one interpreting Kandinsky’s perceptions and style, and one representing my own. This short visual catalog of two synesthetic experiences shows both striking overlaps and disagreements, which are experiences well-known to synesthetes and researchers yet rarely studied outside grapheme-color and sound-color types.

The first image of each color is my interpretation of Kandinsky's writings in tribute to his distinct abstract style. The second is my own visual description of the color in my own imagery.

Kandinsky Yellow

Kandinsky wrote about Yellow, visually described above:

  • Yellow is ex-centric in motion, moving outward and toward the viewer
  • yellow, in any geometric form, if gazed at steadily, disturbs its observer, hurts him but also stimulates him
  • displays all the characteristics of power expressed by a color which finally carries an aggressive and insistent effect to the mind
  • it is interesting that the lemon is yellow (sour taste), the canary bird is yellow (shrill singing)
  • can be brought to a power and height unbearable to the eye and to the mind
  • When so intensified, it sounds like a shrill horn, blown constantly louder, or a high pitched flourish of trumpets
  • never contains a profound meaning

Yellow + black (cold), producing green tint

  • a sickly, supersensuous character (beyond the range of what is perceptible by the senses; not belonging to the experienceable physical world)
  • as if a human being full of ambition and energy was checked in these ambitions or his vitality thwarted by outer circumstances

Yellow + Blue

  • capable of the color representation of madness — not melancholy or hypochondriacal mania but rather an attack of violent, raving lunacy
  • The mad man attacks other persons, smashes everything in his way, squanders his physical powers in all directions, uses them up without rhyme, reason or plan, until he has used them up completely
Firman Kandinsky Yellow

My Thoughts on Yellow, visually described above:

  • brash, arrogant, inconsiderate, anxious, and needy; never settled or satisfied
  • mixed with black or blue, is mentally unwell loud, garish noises are yellow (sirens, screams) but this can be pushed to white, which blocks out my mind's eye and inhibits any other thoughts
  • some bells and the triangle (instrument) are a fainter, more friendly yellow
Kandinsky Red

Kandinsky wrote about Red, visually described above:

  • inner, highly vivid, lively, restless appeal
  • does not possess the irresponsible and self-dispersive character of yellow
  • in spite of all energy and intensity, it creates a strong note of almost tenacious immense power
  • glows in itself and does not radiate much vigor outwardly
  • achieving a manly maturity

Medium Red

  • gains in the persistence of intense feeling; like a relentlessly glowing passion
  • a solid power within Itself, which cannot easily be surpassed but which can be extinguished by blue, as glowing iron is put out by water
  • glows but within itself
  • the somewhat mad characteristics of yellow are almost completely lacking
  • it is dangerous to mix red with black because the dead black subdues the glow and reduces it to a minimum

Lighter Reds

  • (warm) arouses the feeling of strength, energy, ambition, determination, joy, triumph
  • sounds like a trumpet accompanied by the tuba, a persistent imposing, strong tone
  • (light) It wounds like innocent, youthful joy, the glad innocence of a young girl
  • high, clear singing notes of a violin

Colder Reds

  • it reminds us of an element of deep and middle tones, of the cello played passionately
Firman Kandinsky Red

My Thoughts on Red, visually described above:

  • cello, bass, and bassoon are shades of medium to dark red
  • pure "fire engine red" is a somewhat pushy person in a fitted business suit who only wants to talk business
  • soft reds (not pink) are home–still, open, constant
Kandinsky Brown

Kandinsky wrote about Brown, visually described above:

  • unemotional, hard immovable
  • Through the application of brown, an indescribably inner beauty is created, the delay
  • vermilion now rings like a great horn and is comparable to the thunder of drums
Firman Kandinsky Brown

My Thoughts on Brown, visually described above:

  • solid, stable, but not unemotional
  • quiet, supportive
  • often the sound of things like thuds
  • most friendly with orange and medium/light blues
Kandinsky Orange

Kandinsky wrote about Orange, visually described above:

  • it is like a human being, aware of his/[her] own power and emanating happiness and health
  • a medium-sized church bell reminding one of a strong alto voice or the singing of alto violins
Firman Kandinsky Orange

My Thoughts on Orange, visually described above:

  • laughter (not evil laughter) is circles of orange
  • oranges (excluding yellow orange) is welcoming, active, and bold but not pushy
  • orange is unique and can have more identities than other colors
  • its energy is radiated from within and it does not pull from other colors
Kandinsky Violet

Kandinsky wrote about Violet, visually described above:

  • has the tendency to move away from humanity
  • possesses an element of frailty, expiring sadness
  • similar to the sound of an English horn, the shepherds flute, or the deep, low tone of wood instruments (for example, a bassoon)
  • among artists the question, "how are you?" is often jokingly answered, "very violet," which presupposes nothing good
Firman Kandinsky Violet

My Thoughts on Violet, visually described above:

  • crash cymbals produce rounded bulged lavender squares that shrink and fade
  • most of the range of the piano is purples, lower notes approaching dark, reddish hues, higher notes heading toward lavender or even pink if staccato
  • if I rotate the visualization, I can see the layers of the chords (conceptually only, each pitch does not have a set color)
  • purple's logo is a shield; it is organized, fairly caring, fairly business-like, and tries to achieve the best balance of both traits
Kandinsky Grayscale

Kandinsky wrote about Black, Gray, and White, visually described above:


  • sounds like an eternal silence, without future or hope
  • in music, It is as a final pause, which precedes the beginning of another world, yet signifying a termination as the circle is completed
  • immobile, corpse-like
  • has no connection with any occurrences, and accessible to all things
  • the robe of greatest, deepest sorrow
  • outwardly, It Is the least harmonious color yet, for that reason, any other color, even the weakest, will appear stronger and more precise In front of It


  • without appeal and immobile
  • a different kind from the repose produced by green which lies between two active colors and is their product. Grey is, therefore, the immobility of desolation.
  • darker this grey becomes the greater the predominance of desolation, of suffocation
  • lighter gray: lighter, airier breathing more freely as if in relief and with a new hidden hope
  • a similar grey is produced by an optical mingling of green and red which achieves a spiritual blend of passive self-satisfaction and a strong glow of activity


  • white is a symbol of a world from which all color, as a material quality and substance, has disappeared
  • this world Is so far above us that we cannot perceive any sound coming from it
  • great silence
  • graphically represented, appears to us as a formidable, indestructible wall, though infinitely cold, reaching up into eternity
  • it sounds inwardly and corresponds to some pauses in music, which, though temporarily interrupting the development of a melody, do not represent a definite end of the musical sequence
  • it Is not a dead silence but one full of possibilities.
  • used to color pure joy and infinite purity
  • all other colors are minimized in their appeal and some are dissolved completely and retain but a mute, weakened shadow of it
Firman Kandinsky Grayscale

My Thoughts on Black, Gray, and White, visually described above:

  • humble, workaday, organized
  • often taken for granted
  • capable of great feeling
  • the ultimate support for color
  • sounds (as opposed to music) often have gray forms, though they are dominated by shape and motion rather than taking the identity of the color
Kandinsky Blue

Kandinsky wrote about Blue, visually described above:

  • the deeper the blue the more it beckons one into the infinite
  • arousing a longing for purity and the supersensuous
  • blue Is the typical heavenly color
  • deepest and most serene form of blue may be compared to the deep notes of an organ

Dark Blue

  • very dark, blue develops an element of repose
  • into black, it echoes a grief that is hardly human
  • attains an endless, profound meaning sinking into the deep seriousness of all things where there is no end
  • like a cello, and at darkest, a wonderful double bass

Light Blue

  • takes on an indifferent character
  • growing more distant to men like the high, light blue of the sky
  • like a flute
Firman Kandinsky Blue

My Thoughts on Blue, visually described above:

  • medium-dark blue is the leader of all colors
  • gray-blue is commercially-minded
  • light cyan-ish blue is the flute, though not at the lowest of its register
Kandinsky Green

Kandinsky wrote about Green, visually described above:

  • repose (logical in the mixing of yellow and blue)
  • absolute green, which is the most restful color in existence
  • moves in no direction
  • has no corresponding appeal, such as joy, sorrow, or passion
  • demands nothing
  • has a quieting effect on the tired souls of men, though it becomes tiresome after a time
  • passive
  • emanation of this quality of richness and self satisfaction
  • can be compared to the so-called bourgeoisie
  • an immovable, self-satisfied element, limited in every sense and, in many ways, resembling a fat, healthy, immovably resting cow, capable only of eternal rumination, while dull bovine eyes gaze forth vacantly into the world
  • changing from light to dark, green retains its original character of equanimity and restfulness
  • absolute green is best represented by placid, long-drawn middle notes of a violin

Green + Yellow

  • becomes alive, youthful, and [happy]
  • Through the dominance of yellow, an active power has reasserted itself

Green + Blue

  • sinks deep and acquires an entirely different appeal
  • grave, still, and contemplative.
Firman Kandinsky Green

My Thoughts on Green, visually described above:

  • electronic beeps and boops are yellow-green
  • concertina/accordions are shades of medium-deep green
  • green is loving, calm, and open
  • green blue is even more serene