Aphantasia - Absence Mind's Eye
July 08, 2020
Dear Allyson, 

My question is about an uncommon phenomena known as aphantasia; it is the lack of a visual imagination, the lack of a mind's eye. It makes creating art very difficult sometimes as I have a concept in my mind but really struggle to translate it to paper due to being unable to see the image I would like in my mind. It is a difficult entity to explain because I find it hard to sum up the words to describe the phenomena other than when I try to imagine an image - my mind's eye stays blank and it is almost as though I am describing with words what I should be seeing with imagery.

As a visionary artist yourself, how would you recommend that I go about using my empty mind's eye as it is to create or how to potentially tap into the visual side of my mind's eye. 

Thank you for your time and energy. 

Energy, light and love,

Ask Allyson Image
Alphabet by Jasper Johns, 1956
Dear Dannielle,

Thank you for writing with an interesting question.  I understand that aphantasia, first described by a polymath genius in 1880, is considered  a mental condition characterized by an inability to voluntarily visualize mental imagery. This disability, seen rarely as a side affect of brain surgery, has remained relatively unstudied and research on the condition is still scarce. Wonder if a psychiatrist or neurologist diagnosed you with aphantasia or are you saying that your sense of the condition resonates with your experience of a lacking imagination?

If you are looking for rehabilitation and a path out of aphantasia, or would like to engage in a practice to overcome aphantasia,  labeling yourself in your mind and representing yourself to others with that label will instead firmly embed the condition in your mind, which is the source of all conditions and all healing. Our teacher, Michael Singer (New York Times Best Seller — The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection) often reminds us that all trouble exists in the mind.  Every time you tell yourself or someone else that there is a good reason that you have no imagination, you will reinforce that identity of yourself. Try replacing that internal audiotape with an affirmation. Here’s a great one: “Thank you, God, for my healing.” Also, “I am imagining all that is around me and all that is inside of me.”

Those who make art from their imagination might choose to portray the real world, a fantasy world, abstraction, or art that uses symbols including words. 
In my own painting, I don’t rely on my imagination. In my painting, I conceptualize and plan in grounded physicality more interested in the process sometimes, than the results which are always a surprise. My style of creation, unlike Alex’s which is very imaginative, is conceived more like a game, deciding the steps involved and fulfilling parameters I set for the painting.

If you want to begin an art practice in spite of aphantasia, set yourself up with a mirror and do a self-portrait. What if you only drew and painted what you could see in the moment? That characterizes much of art. Aphantasia should not keep you from being an artist. 

When you say, “... it is almost as though I am describing with words what I should be seeing with imagery…” my inner voice responds, “Maybe you should be practicing writing. OR making a work of art limited to writing." 

Check out the groundbreaking artwork of Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer and Jasper Johns and so many other “blue chip" artists of the 20th and 21st centuries that have used writing as art and even wrote whole stories as paintings. The minimalist created an entire genre out of the subject of emptiness. Maybe that is your subject.

Maybe you’d prefer writing essays, journaling or writing poetry. Start a daily writing practice and bringing your results out of the "studio” for feedback whenever you feel it's time to share.  Don’t forget… there is no such thing as good writing… only good RE-writing.

Another possible approach… Make art about the phenomenon itself. Write down what you know. Hone that writing. Share it. Get feedback and re-write. Make a painting of it or a small book… or a bigger book… Use this "self-label" as a source of power. Play with it. It obviously wants your attention.

Encourage your mind to let your hand create. Just like yoga, at any stage on the journey, the more you practice, the better the results.

In loving service,

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