SE Texas artist with inability to visualize mental images discovers he has aphantasia
When David Silvernail was in his mid-50s, his son was tested for ADD. Among the questions the doctor asked was if his son could see the word “cat” in his head. Silvernail realized that he couldn’t do that. One thing led to another, and David finally discovered he has aphantasia.
“It’s an inability to picture things in your head,” he said. “Can you picture an apple in your head? I can’t. Actually, I can’t even picture my children. I don’t know what they look like when they’re not here.”
He reads voraciously. But when he spells, it’s one letter at a time.
David, a wood carver, and his wife Jane, who creates assemblages, will present their artwork during “Eclectic Interpretations” at The Art Studio, Inc., beginning Nov. 6. Aside from showing off his creations, David hopes the publicity for the show will connect him to others who have the condition. So far, he has only met one other person.
“I have a friend that he’s probably in his mid-50s and we were talking about what I had, and he said, ‘Well, I can’t do that either.’” Silvernail said. “We started talking and he thought, just like me, that nobody else could do it either.”
The term aphantasia, taken from the Greek meaning without imagination, was coined by neurologist Adam Zeman in 2015 study. The inability of some people to visualize mental imagery had been noted since 1880, but there had been little research on the condition. Zeman’s original research focused on a man who had a stroke in 2003, but subsequent research discovered it was a condition that affects around 2% of the population.
Silvernail’s sculptures indicate that “without imagination” is not quite an accurate way to describe the condition. However, he is keen to point out that as unusual as aphantasia is, he doesn’t see it as a handicap, and an article in Scientific American cites artists, doctors, web designers, architects, scientists and other creatives who function successfully, although, like Silvernail, they often work from reference material because they can’t picture what they are working on.
“There are all kinds of people that have this that have succeeded in life, have done things that are amazing,” Silvernail said.
If you think you might have aphantasia, Silvernail would like to hear from you. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or he encourages people to talk to him at the show’s opening reception.
For more information, visit the Aphantasia Network website at aphantasia.com.
This story ran in the Oct. 31 Art of Living section of the Beaumont Enterprise.