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Written byMicheal Jarrold

Mind Blindness: Navigating the World of Aphantasia in Art and Memory

I remember sitting in high school lessons trying to desperately escape my surroundings, a time for any person to rely on their visual imagination. I would do little sketches in the page margins, having an almost endless supply of vivid imagery fed through to my pencil on some sort of subconscious conveyer belt. At least that was how I felt before making some questionable choices in my late teenage years. Which I believe to have thrown a spanner in the works, leaving me in the blind spot of my mind’s eye.


So now I’m at a point where imagery doesn’t tend to form behind my eyes in the same way anymore, only in front of them. As if my pages have taken the form of my mind and that’s where I do most of my visual thinking now.

This condition falls along the spectrum known as aphantasia, or as some refer to it, mindblindness. It is a fairly recent discovery, with scientists only beginning to take note of it in the last decade. Really only becoming broadly understood after there were reports of a man who had a small stroke and said that he’d lost the ability to create mental imagery in the process. This started to generate conversation and had people writing in to share their relatability with the subject. A difference being that some of them had been dealing with this for as long as they could remember.

In my case, it’s only something I became aware of in my early adulthood since I had remembered how much easier my ability to imagine things had once been, but aphantasia is a pretty broad spectrum and the way the mind’s eye works is broad and individually unique as well, with visual thinking only acting as one form of recollection.

Micheal Jarrold - Aphantasia

For example, some people can’t picture imagery but can vividly imagine the feeling of textures, or sounds, etc. This all has some way of impacting our memories and will affect the ways we remember things and how emotions and facts work in tandem to help form the recollection of our past. Neither side being better or worse, just different ways of thinking.

As an artist I find these differences extremely interesting, it also helps give insight into the way I work. For instance, I struggle to picture things on my own, but the fact that I always play music while drawing and painting is definitely not a coincidence, as I tend to find it easier to tap into and utilize the emotions and tones in music as a way to feed the feelings in my artwork. So before doing any research on this I didn’t think there were steps you could take to help access that side of your brain, but sometimes hearing the sound of something can create a stepping stone towards generating the imagery in your mind. It’s like a jumping-off point for your brain to generate the visual idea by using the sound as a prompt.

But even having the most severe form of aphantasia doesn’t affect your ability to make art. In the same way that it doesn’t stop you from remembering things. For most people you will picture your memories as if you’re playing back a distant film, but for people with aphantasia, your recollection doesn’t utilize imagery and it’s completely based on your recollection of facts.

Its lack of effect on artists can be further proved in the case of the legendary Disney animator Glen Keane, who discovered that he also was in the minority of the population with aphantasia, and he’s the man responsible for designing and animating The Little Mermaid. After he found out this information, all the other staff were encouraged to do an aphantasia test and many of the artists found themselves on the spectrum. Even though they were some of the most creatively forward-thinking individuals in the industry at that time. 

Micheal Jarrold - Aphantasia

So I guess I’m trying to say that there’s no need to find solutions for people with aphantasia, it’s just a different way of working. I use some methods to guide me towards certain outcomes, but it’s all very individual.

I think it’s important to recognize these differences in each other. It’s a reminder that all our perspectives are unique and provide original work and expression that could never exist otherwise. 

Even down to something as fundamental as memory, our processes are all individual, so sometimes it’s best not to try to find the similarities in each other but rather accept and celebrate our differences through collaboration, where we can create outcomes that were never expected to be seen. Whether it’s born in our mind’s eye or formed from a blind spot, it’s all made with a perspective worth sharing.

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