Study Guide

A Mango-Shaped Space Art and Culture

By Wendy Mass

Art and Culture

Chapter 1

The colors immediately and gently flow over me, energizing me, reminding me that I can still enjoy them. The glossy red-barnlike color of the violin, the silvery -bluish white of the flute, the school-bus yellow of the French horn. All of them layering on top of one another, changing, shifting, belonging, at that minute, only to me. (1.73)

We love the idea of colors belonging to someone. As if, for just a small moment, Mia owns the colors she paints. Perhaps that's why she loves art so much. She feels in control and gets to connect to the canvas in a way that other people just don't. It doesn't seem so bad being a synesthete after all.

I always put music on when I paint, but for the first time I can remember, I'm afraid that the colors will overwhelm me. I never want to feel so out of control again. (1.59)

Music and paint go hand in hand for Mia, who can't pick up a paintbrush without rocking out to some tunes. We find it interesting that she paints the shapes and colors she sees floating in the air. In a way, her art shows us what it's like to be a synesthete since we can't experience it for ourselves.

Chapter 2
Mr. and Mrs. Winchell (Mia's Parents)

"You have a great sense of color." If only he knew the half of it! "Thanks," I reply. "They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, you know. I can see Grandpa in those eyes." (2.9)

Her dad has no idea. When he tells Mia the colors she's used in the painting capture her grandpa, she is really pleased, even if he is only saying it to be nice (which he might be). She wants to make her parents proud, and one of the ways she does this is through painting.

But something is still missing. Staring at the painting, I finally realize what it is. I wash off my brush and prepare the gray and white paints. Brush stroke by brush stroke, Mango appears, perched on Grandpa's right shoulder. I can only fit a kitten-size Mango in the small space. (2.2)

Looking at the painting of her grandpa, Mia realizes that her cat would complete it. Makes sense, since she thinks Mango carries at least a part of her grandpa's soul. This is her way of honoring the memory and life of her grandpa while doing something therapeutic through art.

Chapter 3

Karen tells us to look through the new art book and pick an artist whose style we want to imitate. She says we'll learn a lot about our own style by studying others. I'd like to think I have a style already, but I guess it couldn't hurt to study someone else's. I flip through the pages, but nothing jumps out at me. (3.78)

Art class is a breeze for Mia, though to be fair, pretty much anything would be after the trouble she has in math. Check out what she says about style. She's already conquered the art world, and knows how to paint—according to her. We should point out that looking at various styles help Mia define her own, just like her teacher says.

Chapter 4

If I'm going to imitate Kandinsky, I'm going to have to bring on the shapes. I turn on the radio to a heavy rock station and also put in a cassette of a thunderstorm. The shapes come unbidden, as always, and I begin to paint. (4.178)

Is it just us or does it seem like Mia has to have music to paint? We wonder what her work would look like if she turned down the tunes and went free style. Of course Mia doesn't do that, though, because the shapes and colors she sees floating in the air when listening to music inspire her.

I decide instantly that this is the guy for me. His name is Kandinsky, and the shapes he uses in his paintings look a lot like the ones I see when I hear noises. His images are all twisted together and overlapping, like when I hear music with a lot of different instruments. The colors he uses are flatter, more primary than the ones I usually see, but they're still pretty close. (4.83)

Even though Mia's teacher wants them to imitate another artist, Mia's not so sure that's for her. Then she sees Kandinsky's work. Since his work looks pretty similar to her own, she's intrigued and wants to try to paint his shapes. Hmm… perhaps that's because he's a fellow synesthete.

Chapter 12
Mia Winchell

"Um, well, I painted the slave ship lost at sea to show that the souls of some of the Ibo are still not at rest." I glance at Roger, who motions with his hand for me to say more. "And, uh, I used watercolor paint because it can wash away easily, just like the memory of the Ibo revolt unless we keep studying it." (12.49)

For her history project, Mia paints the Ibo people choosing to die in the water rather than live as slaves. She's able to capture the turmoil of the event in her painting. In fact, she specifically chose watercolors to show the way people fade into history over time. Yep, it just got real.

Chapter 15

I heard her say, 'Aren't the colors beautiful?' and you said, in your little-girl voice, 'Yes, Grams, they're bootiful.' But I still didn't think anything of it, Mia. I'm so sorry. I should have taken it more seriously." (15.104)

It turns out Mia's grandma had synesthesia, too. Her mom recounts the two of them dancing and playing together, talking about the colors in the air. Mia knew her grandma loved music, but she didn't realize why she loved to dance and sing so much. Seeing colors will do that to a gal.

Something is different. I kneel down to look closer. I distinctly remember when I finished painting it that Grandpa had a faraway look in his eyes. But now he looks almost content. I definitely don't remember painting him that way. (15.79)

Looking back at her painting of her grandpa, Mia realizes that something is different about the image: Her grandpa seems more at peace than he was before. Of course paintings can't change by themselves, so it's more likely that Mia has a new perspective on her grandpa. She finally feels at peace with his passing.

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