Saturday, January 20, 2018

Can I be an artist if I have Aphantasia?

Pretty word, buAphantasia literally means “no fantasy.”  A person without any pictures in the mind’s eye.  Like me.  When I close my eyes, there is only soft black.  No images, no mental pictures, no visual memories.   And I have been a visual artist for my entire life, childhood included.  So here are some of my ways to be an artist with Aphantasia.

Because I do not have inner sight, I have had to learn "outer sight" --nature in all her myriad detail.  I am a photo-realist painter because I am in love with the colours and shapes and textures around me. The photograph allows me to hold nature still enough to really see.

"There are three classes of people: those who see.  Those who see when they are shown.  Those who do not see."

Because I do not have mental pictures, I am unable to manipulate shapes in space with my inner eye, turning them this way and that to discover the effects of light and shadow.  Although the buffalo in the distance and the birds in flight are from photographs, the only way I could understand the flying boats was to build one.  I filled the paper containers with bird see, just like in the actual experience this image is based on, and then I turned to boat every which way under a bright light, sketching the angles and shadows.   

"One has no right to love or hate anything if one has not acquired a thorough knowledge of its nature. Great love springs fro great knowledge of the beloved object, and if you know it but little you will be able to love it only a little or not at all."  

As an art teacher, first in Junior High School and then at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, I know lots of tricks and gimmicks to encourage students to have fun with their creativity.  One of my favorites is "cereal box inspiration."  This technique creates a fantasy image that is not dependent on seeing with the mind's eye.

Find an empty cereal box with a light, unprinted cardboard interior.  Set out an array of particularly messy art materials--acrylic paints, chalk pastels, sharpies, crayons--anything  that will smudge and blur. Invite a circle of friends to participate.  Children are even better.  Start passing the box around the circle, each person reaching inside to make a scribble or swipe or blob. Don't look inside the box.  Keep passing until the art materials are pretty much decorating everyone from elbow to fingers.  Open the box and pin flat to dry.  Make a small frame of stiff paper and begin moving this over the dried interior box surface until a composition presents itself.  Tape the frame in place, then cut out the framed section to use as the image source for a painting.

I use another version of this kind of fantasy sight when I gaze into the textured surface of a common object and see faces or creatures.  Much like seeing fantastic scenes in clouds as they drift by on a summer day.  This is how the Journey Oracle card images were painted: by finding images in stones, agate slices and dried rawhide.


Look at walls splashed with a number of stains, or stones of various mixed colours.  If you have to invent some scene, you can see there resemblances to a number of landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, great plains, valleys and hills, in various ways.  Also you can see various battles, and lively postures of strange figures, expressions on faces, costumes and an infinite number of things, which you can reduce to good integrated form.  I remind you that it should not be hard for you to stop sometimes and look into the stains of walls, or the ashes of a fire, or clouds or mud or like places, in which if you consider them well, you may find really marvelous ideas. The mind of the painter is stimulated to new discoveries."  (all quotes by Leonardo da Vinci)

Aphantasia--is it an obstacle to becoming a visual artist?  Only if I let it be. 

Maybe Leonardo da Vinci had Aphantasia.  If so, I think he did OK.