At the playground, my daughter ran up the steps, crossed the wobbly bridge holding my hand, slid down the slide, then banged on the children’s chimes. Over and over again, she did this, following the same route, repeating the same events. She is visually impaired and such repetitive behavior is common in open physical environments. It’s an adaptive way to learn the lay of the land and simultaneously play safely. Nobody taught her to do this: she just does it – often to the frustration of other children who want to play with her.
I chatted to my friend, Heidi, a violinist. Mid-conversation, Heidi uttered, more to herself than to me, “It’s a shame the D is flat.”
Whaaaaa? The comment stunned me. Now, Heidi wasn’t spotting a child as I was, but she was having a conversation with a woman on the move (me) and surrounded by a cacophony of children’s voices.
We all notice different things. We have different sensitivities, different genes, different adaptations. Heidi later told me that her dad required that the she and her sister learn to identify notes. She has relative pitch. She can always identify a note played on a violin, and almost always on other stringed instruments.
My online friend, Blakely, shared this article about the identification of a woman with genetically inherited superior color vision. This woman possesses four types of cones (color vision cells) rather than the standard three, and what’s significant – she uses them. She is a “functional tetrachromat” and sees much more variation in color than the rest of us. Other tetrachromats had been identified, but they do not actually use the fourth type of cone. Does our culture, comprised primarily of trichromats, not encourage the development of superior color vision? Possibly. So why did this ONE woman’s vision become functionally superior?
I have attended very few music classes and I was not raised in a house full of music. But we did go to many an art museum; I was always drawing; and I’ve always loved color. I know that my third grade teacher’s lipsticks were perfect for her, and so were her clothes. I had eye surgery as a baby and while my visual acuity is fine, I lack stereoscopic vision. In other words my brain cannot use information from both eyes at once. I rely on shadows; texture and color changes;and relative size to identify and understand things like steps, gradient changes and to judge distance. So I might be more sensitive to color as an adaptive response to a biological shortcoming, however I don’t think I see variations in color exponentially more than others. I don’t think I’m tetrachromatic. I do think that I have a good eye for color harmony, particularly as it relates to people and what they wear.
I studied color analysis professionally because I wanted to improve my ability. I knew I wanted to make custom color palettes (this means each is unique to the recipient) rather than to identify the best of a set of prefabricated palettes (the more common, and less successful approach). I said in an earlier post that I’m a perfectionist. I wanted the greatest challenge: if I couldn’t do color analysis fabulously, and understand human coloring and color harmony enough to create bespoke palettes, then I wasn’t going into the field. There were better analysts that people that could see.
I also knew I wanted to provide clients with highly functional palettes. Texture affects how we perceive color. Since you wear fabric, your palette should be fabric for ease of matching colors. Furthermore your palette should be nicely presented and portable.
Perhaps this woman with superior color vision also reveled in color from a young age, noticing nuances and engaging her fourth kind of cone? Perfect pitch, for the most part, seems to require the right genes and the right musical training at a young age to develop. Superior color vision, might also need educational nudging. Therefore I am noting down
as a future business project. Just think: if these young ones are interested in color harmony, they’ll make the highest caliber color analysts, and if not, they’ll be able to enlighten us about a world of MUCH MUCH MORE color! It’s a win-win!
Perfect pitch is also more likely among the autistic and the visually impaired. In autism, there is often a generalized over sensitivity that accompanies the reduced perception of social cues. In those who are visually impaired, as you’d expect, other senses compensate for reduced vision. My daughter tells me, “The air filter changed note.” I think she is noticing a pitch change but I’m too clueless musically to be sure. “Can I have some cantaloupe?” she asks when I pick her up at school and she can smell it on my breath.
One day, on an extremely crowded and noisy bus, my daughter looked withdrawn. Her four year old self does not like it when there are “Too many legs in front of me, Mommy!” But on this occasion we were sitting down, so she had plenty of personal space. “Are you ok?” I asked. “Yes,” she smiled, “I hear church bells.” I had to listen hard to hear the quiet ringing, beyond the groan of the bus, the whoosh of passing cars speeding through the rain and the discourse around us. She was not withdrawn, but drawn in. It made me so happy that she found such bliss in the middle of all that.
Color harmony is my bliss. Every day I am so happy that I found color analysis, that I studied it and refined my knowledge. (Yes, even with my now-lowly-feeling-ever-so-ordinary trichromatic vision.) Whether I am admiring the sweater choice of a stranger on the street, or working on a client’s palette, I have many, many moments of joy and deep engagement. Every day I do work that I love; work that adds value to the lives of others; and work that is beautiful. Until the tetrachromats take over, I’m enjoying this gift.
For more on tetrachromacy, listen to the first part of this fabulously entertaining radio show. Just don’t blame me when you’re even more confused. And read here, too. For more about autism and perfect pitch, read here. We are all unique and special. I love that my work celebrates that.