Do You See What I See?
Written by Dr. David Evans Last modified on August 6, 2018
You’ve probably heard of color blindness before, but odds are you’re unfamiliar with the condition known as tetrachromacy. If color blindness is defined as a less-than-average spectrum of color vision, tetrachromacy represents the flipside of that coin: a greater-than-average spectrum of color vision.
Photoreceptor cone cells in the eye are responsible for our color vision. The average human has three cones. People who are color blind have a genetic mutation that results in them only having two cones. Conversely people who are tetrachromatic have a genetic mutation that results in them having a total of four (hence “tetra”).
Only women are capable of being tetrachromatic, with neuroscientists suggesting the condition may allow them to see 100 times more colors than the average human. As a result, tetrachromacy has been dubbed “super vision” and the tetrachromatic “super women.”
As a vision scientist by training and background, super vision — including super color vision — always interested me. The subject hit even closer to home after I discovered that a longtime friend and coworker’s wife — Concetta Antico — happened to be tetrachromatic. And, I had previously purchased one of her paintings (she’s a well-known artist here in San Diego), an iconic view of the renowned Balboa Park.
The researcher in me couldn’t resist reaching out to Concetta to ask her some questions, and she was kind enough to answer them and give us permission to publish an excerpt of our discussion below. Thanks Concetta!
How did you become aware that you see things differently than the average person?
I’ve always been fixated with fine art, paintings, nature and color, pedantic with color in all my personal uses.
As a fine art teacher students started to tell me they could not see the colors that I said I could see or was pointing out to them — particularly with outdoor painting. One student suggested I may be a tetrachromat and sent me an article many years ago. I dismissed it. Next my daughter was found to be color blind. I dismissed that too thinking that it was not due to me. Later a neurology student stated that there was an alchemy in my color use she could not explain in my artwork. I told her about the suggestion of tetrachromacy from another student. She sent me research articles and I read one. It said that women with a fourth receptor mutation have the potential to create a color blind female child. That article prompted me to reach out to leading color vision scientists, who tested me. The rest is history… I am the highest functioning tetrachromat known at this time. They say I am the perfect storm for tetrachromacy: the world’s first tetrachromat artist.
Do you see things at all differently now that you’re conscious of your tetrachromacy?
I see them the SAME as I always did — I just know now that what I am seeing others are not. I am much more aware that I am seeing MUCH more than everyone. I see it as this divine gift.
Do you think your tetrachromatic gift is at the core of your love of art?
Absolutely! Of art and of nature and all the beauty in our world… animals, flowers, the ocean and its creatures, the night sky, and on and on. I am immersed in it all visually — always. I love mixing color and portraying the beauty and color I see on canvas. I love to SEE!
Is it safe to say that you’re unique visual acuity has impacted your art?
Again, most definitely! My work is visceral, colorful, some say holographic. Remember the alchemy comment. Color is surprising in my work, bright and subtle at the same time. You may see a rim of green on something orange or a rim of violet on something green in the work; that is the tetrachromacy at play in my process. My work is very 3D as a result. People love it. Color-deficient folks say they see more color in it than in other artwork. I can tell when other artwork is lacking in color too… or just, well, dull.
Does your enhanced sensitivity to color cause you any problems?
Yes. I am color OCD. Things MUST match or go together properly and that is an issue for me. Colored “things” are overly important to me. My vision often rules me. I do not like places where there is color overload, and when color is “wrong” I am emotionally uncomfortable. I am so intimate with color it plays a key part in my “everything.” I am also swayed to buy things sometimes when I love the color! I love being in nature where color has been created to perfection.
Have you noticed any changes in your color vision as you have added spectacles or contacts for vision correction?
I have no need of correction to my vision at this time and I am getting up there. The optometrists are amazed that I have none or very little degeneration. I always had 20/20 vision and though I may not quite be at that level today, I am not in need of contacts or spectacles at this time.
Currently, researchers are studying my genetics to see if there are any links between tetrachromacy and superior sight vision, and less impact from macular degeneration.
With such a range of colors at your disposal, do you have a favorite?
Believe it or not, my favorite color is white — or should I say the millions of “white” in our world. It’s easy on the eyes and beautiful in its sublets. I also like shades of lilac and emerald greens. I also love blacks (colored ones).
Do you think it’s ironic that you fell in love with a man who’s colorblind?
It is hysterical. The gulf between our color vision is pronounced in our lives and creates lively conversation and disputes sometimes! It is sad for our daughter’s condition as our combined genetics created that result.
The best was when he dropped a slice of green apple on a wooden floor and I was watching as he searched and searched to see it! Finally I asked, “you can’t see that can you?” It was right in front of us all. We all laughed. Also he needs me very much as he can never select the right ties or socks for his suits for his conventions — color disaster solo!
We are a great pair I guess. People come together for many reasons — color was one for us.
Learn more about Concetta and her artwork at http://concettaantico.com/