The Aphantasia Artist.
Ok, so there is this thing that I have discovered in the last few years I have, I am approaching my 50’s and was completely unaware that I had it or it was even a thing, nothing has ever made me question why it was different for me than others. I am a child of the 70’s, I was just considered a little weird, bit odd, lost my box somewhere, ah its just Shal being Shal and I didn’t think anything of it. So what am I talking about?
Aphantasia is what I am talking about. It’s not an illness its kind of a spectrum disorder in short, a sufferer of Aphantasia has an inability to visualise mental imagery. But its not just imagery, this is why say spectrum, it also covers a person’s ability to recall sound, touch, smell, taste as well as imagery. So, you often see characters on TV’s shows who have perfect recall, photographic memories, these people have hyper visualisation skills. A person who has Aphantiasia is the opposite of this. Let me define it a little more for you. If you placed this on a scale of 0-10 a person who has total recall would be a 10. Most people fall between say between 4-7 so this mean you will have some or all abilities to some varying degree, some will be strong, some not so or not at all. For me I am a 0,nothing,nada,zip,zilch……….
When I figured this out a few years ago I was totally gobsmacked. I always considered myself to have a very good imagination, I am very creative, my spatial awareness was fantastic but how in the heck to people see things in their mind, with their eyes open, awake, at the same time as doing something else. How can I do what I do and not have this magical ability that most of the planet seem to have? So once I finally got past my gobsmacked-ness, which took a good week, I began to feel robbed.
I discovered I had this while having treatment for a vocal condition, I was trying something called regressive brain reworking therapy, in short you use your imagination to re write bad memories ( they first thought my vocal condition was stress related) I was asked by the therapist to describe my anger, what did it look like? Now I don’t every recall being asked to answer a question relayed to me this way, this sounded impossible, for me I was suddenly being asked to describe something I could not see, I was being asked what colour it was, how big it was, what kind of shape it was. I just remember thinking why was he asking me such a daft question, no one sees it in your head, its how you feel. It really perplexed me. Then my phone did that spooky thing of planting something on your feed that gives you the answers that you’re looking for, an article popped up on Facebook about people who don’t see mental imagery? I read the article and it suddenly dawned on me, as it does in these kinds of moments that this was me. That then was MIND BLOWN + FEELING ROBBED and HOW THE HECK DO I CREATE ART STUFF???
Well to be fair once all the info I read had been processed over the course of a couple of weeks I came to a conclusion, why did I feel robbed, I didn’t need too, I have never known any different, I must just say at this point I was only aware of the imagery missing not anything else mentioned. I started too realised that it explained quite a lot as to how I worked as a person, why I did things the way I did and why as an artist that drawing things from your mind totally flummoxed me. So over time I started to learn more about this condition. So as I mentioned previously it also covers taste, sounds, smells and touch. I can’t recall or manifest any of them mentally. It also seems that I have SDAM too which is Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory which personally I feel the two are linked again spectrum related but I am still figuring out how much this impacts me, But I am going off on a tangent…….How do I create art work if I see no imagery?
Well I figured it out like this, the part of my brain that is affected by Aphantasia is just a part? You see I still dream, I dream in colour, I see people I know and I hear music, but this is why I say a different part of the brain. Because the Aphantasia affected part will not recall and visual imagery of a person while I am awake, can’t see a thing and If I get a song stuck in my head, it’s my own internal voice singing, no music, no sound, no voice of the artist singing that song.
I have a very strong creative side, strong compositional skills, I love working out how to make composition work, juxtaposing ideas, and I work on the fly. I have struggled at college because of always being told that you need to make test pieces before you actually make your final piece, which makes sense because of cost, but my problem is I can’t rap my head around it, I work out composition as I make it, know what is right and wrong as I go through the process, but what may work with a small composition won’t always work with a larger piece so I found myself working my college journals backward, make my item, then make the test, then log it down. As for drawing and painting I have no hope if I don’t have a point of reference, trying to understand how anyone could draw from their mind……well. I just thought I must being doing something wrong, in hindsight it’s a wonder I didn’t question it then as to why I could not see anything, but all those things about seeing things in your mind, it was all metaphorical to me, I thought everyone else.
But in a way it has given me a massive sense of freedom knowing this now, I am not constrained by my imagination, it’s just as much a surprise to me as it is to the viewer on how my work turns out, I never know till it’s finished what it’s going to look like. I have 10,000 ideas going through my head of things I would love to try but no clue how any of them will look until I have completed them. I am only touching the basis of Aphantasia here but if you have any questions message me, go Google it and if you find you are a Aphant too come join us on Facebook @ the Aphantasia Artist there are over 400 of us there.