I want you to imagine a beach, with a bright blue sky that is fading into a sunset. There’s a couple walking hand in hand in the distance. You’re standing on the waters edge. When you look down to your bare feet, you can feel the sand between your toes and the coolness of the water…
That picture that you see in you mind.. yea, I can’t do that.
This is a condition that has been named Aphantasia, often described as, “Blind Mind’s Eye” — The inability to voluntarily visualise imagery.
Here’s my personal experience:
Every time I’m told to close my eyes and imagine a scene, I can think of the basic facts about that scene – however I can not actually visualise it. If I were to ‘imagine’ a family members face for example, I would just think of a list facts about their features (eye colour, hair colour etc) that I can remember about them, yet I don’t have the ability to conjure the image of their face in my mind. So unfortunately, unless I’ve known someone long enough to remember a list of their facial features, I will completely forget what they look like until I see them again.
But that’s not all.. I also cannot imagine the other senses: touch, taste, sound, or smell. Like my inability to visualise, I can’t experience the other senses in my mind either. Instead I will just recall the facts of each sense. I can mentally talk to myself – but it is in monotone. If I try to sing a song in my head, it is just the words and no tune.
I can dream though. I don’t dream often (that I know of), but when I do, the dreams often feel very real. Though once awake, I can barely remember what it was that I dreamt of, and the memory of the dream completely fades by the end of the day. The more I try to remember a dream, the harder it is to retain. There are only a number of dreams that I can remember to this day, and they are all either my scariest nightmares or completely bizarre dreams, like the time I was a talking dinosaur.
How it effects everyday life:
For 23 years of my life I had thought that the sayings like “imagine that” or “picture this” were just a figure of speech… I’m now 24… I had no idea that I had a different way of processing visual information. Or that the way my brained functioned was in fact, very different to the vast majority of people.
I’ve always had a terrible memory. After realising that my brain is wired differently to the majority, it provides a reason as to why my memory is so terrible. Most memories for the general public is in images, feelings and senses. Since this isn’t an option for me, my memory solely relies on facts that I have retained over the years. Sadly it isn’t an awful lot.
I get random memories when I complete an action or hear, smell, touch, taste something that has happened in the past, a bit like Déjà vu. However, when I try to recall what my deceased grandmother looked like or try to remember the sound of her distinct Irish voice, I simply can’t.
There are some positives to this though. Such as, I know that I love certain foods, but since I can’t imagine the taste, it’s kinda like eating it for the first time, every time!
How it effects life as an artist:
I do feel slightly disadvantaged in the creative world, as I don’t have the ability to draw from my imagination or memory. I tend to use a reference photo for every piece of art that I create. Whether that’s a photograph, or a Photoshopped image that I have designed/altered prior. I am occasionally successful drawing without a reference when it’s a subject that I have drawn and practiced multiple times before.