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On Color Theory An analysis and criticism of modern color theory by James E. Cain
On Color Theory
An analysis and criticism of modern color theory by James E. Cain
02 May 2008

Introduction

Principles of Color Theory

Color has a powerful quality; its personal expression affects our mood, reflects our

choices of dress or transportation, it colors the language and delights us on the fourth

of July.

back as the ancient Greeks and throughout history was discussed by a variety of scientists and artists. Leonardo da Vinci, Sir Issac Newton, Johann Goethe, Michel- Eugene Chevreul, and many others made significant contributions to the study and discussion of color. Modern color theory, however, is largely derived from the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus (1919-1933) was a German school with a primary objective to unify art and technology. Instructors at the Bauhaus compiled previous discussions of the study of color, forming them into a single curriculum. Subjective experiences were rejected in favor of controlled conditions where color and art could be discussed through the language of science rather than through the prism of art.

Color is created when light strikes a surface, causing certain wavelengths to be absorbed, while others are reflected. The reflected wavelength is interpreted by our eye as a specific color (“red”, blue”, etc).

Additive mixing: the mixing of light.

Subtractive mixing: the mixing of pigments (paint). In subtractive mixing, secondary and tertiary mixes are always darker than the primaries they are made from. The more colors that are added together, the more wavelengths are absorbed, and thus less wavelenghts are reflected.

Color wheel: a circular representation of the colors and their relationship to one another. The color wheel is almost always a guide for subtractive, not additive mixing.

Primary colors:

Typically: red, yellow, and blue.

The study of color goes as far

red, yellow, and blue. The study of color goes as far The legacy of the Bauhaus
red, yellow, and blue. The study of color goes as far The legacy of the Bauhaus

The legacy of the Bauhaus had the most impact on color theory. Johannes Itten, an instructor at the Bauhaus, is credited as a major and original contributor to the study of color, despite being largely a compiler of past information. Many Bauhaus theories of color only work in the classroom and dissolve with real-world application. Even so, the Bauhaus theories continue today to “pass on these ideas in the same way children pass on the croup.” 1 Though the Bauhaus opened art for all people, its reliance on scientifc all-or- nothing principles infected its students, propogating a detached view of art, making them susceptible to mistakes introduced by instructors attempting to find a universal application.

Secondary colors - Also named: yellow-red (orange), yellow-blue (green), and red-blue (violet). Results when two primary colors are mixed.by instructors attempting to find a universal application. Tertiary colors - Also Intermediate colors. Results when

Tertiary colors - Also Intermediate colors. Results when a primary and a secondary color are mixed.(violet). Results when two primary colors are mixed. Principles of Color Theory, continued: Hue: Pure color

Principles of Color Theory, continued:

color are mixed. Principles of Color Theory, continued: Hue: Pure color without the addition of black,

Hue: Pure color without the addition of black, white, or gray. (Fully saturated).

the addition of black, white, or gray. (Fully saturated). Tint: Color mixed with white, or in

Tint: Color mixed with white, or in the case of watercolor, lightened by adding increasing amounts of water.

watercolor, lightened by adding increasing amounts of water. Tone: The relative strength of the hue as

Tone: The relative strength of the hue as it approaches black or white at the opposite ends of the value scale. Obtained by mixing a color with gray or its complement.

Obtained by mixing a color with gray or its complement. Value: The relative darkness or lightness

Value: The relative darkness or lightness of a color.

Value: The relative darkness or lightness of a color. Intensity: The strength of a color, especially

Intensity: The strength of a color, especially the degree to which it lacks its complementary color.

the degree to which it lacks its complementary color. Chroma, used interchangably with tone, tonal value,

Chroma, used interchangably with tone, tonal value, value, and intensity. Strength of a color, in terms of darkness or lightness.

Strength of a color, in terms of darkness or lightness. Saturation: Vividness of hue; degree of

Saturation: Vividness of hue; degree of difference from a gray of the same lightness or brightness. Also, the relative purity of a color. Saturation remains relatively unchanged as a hue is mixed with black, but always decreases when it is mixed with white. 2

EndNotes

33 Swift, Gary. “Colors in Context”. 1996. Online. Internet. http:// www.designmatrix.com/pl/cyberpl/cic.html (May 2, 2008)

Echo Productions. Michel Eugène Chevreul. 1999. Online. Internet. http://www.colorsystem.com/projekte/engl/17chee.htm (April 4, 2008)

1 MacEvoy, Bruce, handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet.

34 Albers Explanation. “Color Contrast”. Online. Internet. http://

http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/water05.html (May 3, 2008)

www.cs.brown.edu/courses/cs092/VA10/HTML/AlbersExplana-

“From modernist rationalism to user-centered design”. 2006.

tion.html (May 2, 2008)

Online. Thesis. Internet.

2 MacEvoy, Bruce, “color science & “color theory”. handprint: color of

3 Albers, Josef. Interaction of Color. New Haven & London, Yale

http://adt.lib.swin.edu.au/uploads/approved/adt-

theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/

35 Kelly, 145.

VSWT20070214.163710/public/02whole.pdf (April 4, 2008)

book3.html#chevreul (May 2, 2008)

University Press, 1963.

36 Albers, 60.

37 MacEvoy, Bruce, “the geometry of color perception”. handprint:

The Munsell Color System. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www. applepainter.com (April 4, 2008)

4 Feisner, Edith Anderson. Color: How to Use Colour In Art and Design. King Laurence Publishing. 1996, 13.

color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint. com/HP/WCL/color2.html (May 2, 2008)

Warm/cool visual forces. 2007. Online. Internet. http://wetcan- vas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=75633 (April 4, 2008)

38

Ibid.

5 Ibid, 13.

6 Ibid, 13.

39 MacEvoy, Bruce. “an artist’s color wheel”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/ WCL/color16.html (May 2, 2008)

 

7 Sidaway, Ian.

Color Mixing Bible. New York: Watson-Guptill

Publications, 2002, 11.

8 “Newton and the Color Spectrum”, Color Vision & Art. Online. Inter- net. http://webexhibits.org/colorart/bh.html (May 2, 2008)

9 Sidaway, 11.

10 Feisner, 14.

11 Sidaway, 11.

12 Ibid.

13 MacEvoy, Bruce, “color science & “color theory”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/ book3.html (May 2, 2008)

14 Ibid.

40 Long, Jim and Joy Turner Luke. The New Munsell Student Color Set. 2001. Fairchild Books & Visuals, New York City, NY.

41 MacEvoy, Bruce. “an artist’s color wheel”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/ WCL/color16.html (May 2, 2008)

42 Ibid. 43 MacEvoy, Bruce. “color temperature”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet.
42
Ibid.
43 MacEvoy, Bruce. “color temperature”. handprint: color of
theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/
WCL/color12.html (May 2, 2008)
44 “Warm/Cool Visual Forces” – WetCanvas!. 2002. Online. Inter-
net. http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=75633
(May 2, 2008)
45 MacEvoy, Bruce. “tonal value”. handprint: color of theory.
2005. Online. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/color11.html
(May 2, 2008)
46 “Simultaneous Contrast”. Color Vision & Art. Online. Internet.
http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/contrast.html (May 2, 2008)
47 MacEvoy, Bruce. “tonal value”. handprint: color of theory.
2005. Online. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/color11.html
(May 2, 2008)
48
Ibid.
49
Ibid.
50 Brandt, Erik, Jenny Tondera / Steven Heller. Summer 2000. On-
line. Interview. Internet. http://geotypografika.com/2008/04/01/
jenny-tondera-steven-heller (April 4, 2008)
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Journal Article. Internet. http://cit.dixie.edu/vt/vt2600/gestalt.
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Edwards, Betty. Color: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing
Colors. Penguin Group, New York, 2004.
Eiseman, Leatrice. Color: Messages and Meanings. Handbooks
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Eliot, Roger. 16 Lessons in Color Theory: The History of
Color. 2007. Online. Internet. http://www.wetcanvas.com/Ar-
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Gregg, Gail. “I Will Never Look at Painting the Same Way
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Krause, Jim. Color Index. Cincinnati: F + W Publications, 2002
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orart (April 4, 2008)

15 Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Theory of Colours, trans. Charles Lock Eastlake, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The M.I.T. Press, 1982.

16 “Goethe and Chevreul: Simultaneous Contrast”. Color Vision & Art. Online. Internet. http://webexhibits.org/colorart/simultaneous.html (May 2, 2008)

17 Echo Productions. “Michel Eugene Chevreul”. Online. Internet. http://www.colorsystem.com/projekte/engl/17chee.htm (May 2, 2008)

18 MacEvoy, Bruce, “color science & “color theory”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/ book3.html#chevreul (May 2, 2008)

19 Ibid.

20 Chevreul’s Theories. 1999. Online. Internet. http://www.brown.

edu/Courses/CG11/2005/Group161/SimultaneousColorContrast.htm

(May 2, 2008)

21 MacEvoy, Bruce, “color science & “color theory”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/ book3.html#chevreul (May 2, 2008)

22 Jusko, Don. “Dated History of the Artists, Pigments, Color Theory and Techniques Used Throughout Time”. 1996. Online. Internet. http://realcolorwheel.com/1artists.htm (May 2, 2008)

23 Hering Ewald, 1964. “Outlines of a Theory of the Light Sense”. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass.

24 Mudry, Karen M. Biomedical Imaging (Principles and Applications in Engineering). CRC Press, Durham, North Carolina, Chapter 4, page 7.

25 MacEvoy, Bruce, “modern color models”. handprint: color of theory. 2005. Online. Internet. http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/color7. html (May 2, 2008)

26 Bauhaus. 2005. Online. Internet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bau- haus (May 2, 2008)

27 Johannes Itten. 2005. Online. Internet. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Johannes_Itten (May 2, 2008)

28 “Johannes Itten’s Color Contrasts” 2007. Online. Internet. http:// www.worqx.com/color/itten.htm (May 2, 2008)

29 Albers, 3.

30 Kelly, Rob Roy. “Reflections of Josef Albers”. Online. Journal Article. Internet. http://www.rit.edu/~rkelly/resources/pdf/03_ped/ ped_alb.pdf (April 4, 2008), 139-140.

31 Ibid, 137-138.

32 Ibid, 143.

ped_alb.pdf (April 4, 2008), 139-140. 3 1 Ibid, 137-138. 3 2 Ibid, 143.

Principles of Color Theory, continued:

Shade: Darkening a hue by mixing in black or a darker hue.

Shade: Darkening a hue by mixing in black or a darker hue. Achromatic: Possessing no hue

Achromatic: Possessing no hue and no saturation (unsaturated). Also known as “neutral colors”. Includes the whites, blacks, and dark greys and varied only by tints, tones, and shades.

Luminance / Value: A measure of the amount of light reflected from a hue. Those hues with a high content of white have a higher luminance or value.

Transparency: The degree to which a color allows light to pass through it and reflect back the color beneath it. Adding white to any color reduces its transparency.

Opacity: The opposite of transparency. The degree to which light is prevented from passing through.

Undertone: Bias toward another color.

Temperature:

through. Undertone: Bias toward another color. Temperature: Half of the color wheel--from red to yellow-green--is

Half of the color wheel--from red to yellow-green--is considered warm.

color wheel--from red to yellow-green--is considered warm. The other half--from green to red-violet-- is considered

The other half--from green to red-violet-- is considered cool.

When considering

temperature, it is important to note, that all colors can be seen to have a warm or cool

bias. “

reds possible within their own hues.” 3 --- Josef Albers, “The Interaction of Color”.

there

are also warm blues and cool

Also, green and violet are arguably neither warm or cool; some color theorists leave off these colors as considerations.

Rather than relying on the hue’s placement in the color wheel, it is more appropriate to consider context when determining if a color is warm or cool.

Color Schemes using the color wheel

a color is warm or cool. Color Schemes using the color wheel Complementary colors: Colors that

Complementary colors: Colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel.

Colors that lie opposite each other on the color wheel. Analogous Colors: Colors that lie beside

Analogous Colors:

Colors that lie beside each other on the color wheel.

Colors that lie beside each other on the color wheel. Split Complement: Choosing one color and

Split Complement:

Choosing one color and using the color on each side of its complement on the color wheel.

the color on each side of its complement on the color wheel. Diad Colors: Using two

Diad Colors: Using two colors that are two colors apart on the color wheel.the color on each side of its complement on the color wheel. Triad Colors: A combination

Triad Colors: A combination of three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel.

of three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. Tetrad Colors: A combination of
of three colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel. Tetrad Colors: A combination of

Tetrad Colors: A combination of four colors that are equally spaced on the color wheel.

History of Color Theory:

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle contended there were seven colors: white, yellow, red, purple, green, blue, and black. All other colors could be made by adding either black or white.

Though unproven until the seventeenth century, the alchemists of ancient Greek believed colors came from white light. This was a prevailing theory among artists; it is an example how observation through real-world experience led artists to mostly accurate conclusions.

In 1651, the Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci wrote in his “Treatise on Painting” that black and white were colors. He assigned white, yellow, green, blue, red, and black as his primary colors, ranking them in order of importance, associating them with their corresponding earth elements:

light, earth, water, air, fire, and darkness. 4 Da Vinci wrote direct contrary colors (what would be later known as complementary colors) intensified each other when placed side by side. 5 This concept would later be described as “simultaneous contrast”. Da Vinci also observed atmospheric perspective, the tendency of objects viewed from great distances to become uniform in hue and value. 6 Da Vinci did not use intense colors in his paintings but rather focused on light and shadow techniques (chiaoroscuro) as well as sfumato. Sfumato, from the Italian word fumo meaning smoke, is the technique of grading and blending hues to give a hazy and blurry effect.

grading and blending hues to give a hazy and blurry effect. Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”

Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa”

Considerations and Critique of Color Theory Concepts, continued:

and Critique of Color Theory Concepts, continued: Jean-Leon Gerome, “The Grey Cardinal” In Gerome’s

Jean-Leon Gerome, “The Grey Cardinal”

In Gerome’s painting ‘The Grey Cardinal’, the figure in yellow at the top

of the stairs has the warmest hue, but it clearly does not advance; moreover, the figure in black and the two figures in red are obvious foreground elements. 44

Here, the cool blues of the parrots clearly dominate the foreground; it is obvious they are in front of the green leaves behind them. 44

they are in front of the green leaves behind them. 4 4 In this painting by
they are in front of the green leaves behind them. 4 4 In this painting by

In this painting by Ingres, the blue of the dress and the yellow-gold backing of the chair occupy the same visual plane. 44

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:

Portrait of Princesse de Broglie

Ingres: Portrait of Princesse de Broglie Alma-Tadema’s “Confidences” In this painting, the cool

Alma-Tadema’s “Confidences”

In this painting, the cool blues and greys occupy the foreground despite the rich red walls in the background. Also, the green plant is clearly in front of the red wall. 44

Luminance makes lightness and saturation “attention getting”, not cool/warm colors.

There is dispute what is the warmest hue. Some say it is red-orange while others say it is yellow. Once again, context as there is no universal warm or cool color.

Warm/cool contrast seems limited to only bright, saturated colors; what of dull colors?

Vision seeks out contrast or novelty.

what of dull colors? Vision seeks out contrast or novelty. Monet, Rouen Cathedral, series. Changes in
what of dull colors? Vision seeks out contrast or novelty. Monet, Rouen Cathedral, series. Changes in

Monet, Rouen Cathedral, series.

Changes in

illumination

and changes

in season

affect color.

Color can only be understood in terms of its interplay with light.

can only be understood in terms of its interplay with light. Value, not color, is the
can only be understood in terms of its interplay with light. Value, not color, is the

Value, not color, is the most important design element. The watercolors of Winslow Homer (left) are just as striking in black and white as they are in color. 45

Human vision can adjust to changes in light and dark. Negative afterimages occur only after prolonged stimulation and do not last for more than a few seconds.

stimulation and do not last for more than a few seconds. Vincent Van Gogh’s Night Watch

Vincent Van Gogh’s Night Watch

Complementary colors are not always harmonious. In a letter to his brother Theo, Van Gogh said of

his painting, “…one of the ugliest (pictures) I have done… I have tried to express the terrible passions of humanity by means of red and green.” 46

passions of humanity by means of red and green.” 4 6 Simultaneous contrast is affected by

Simultaneous contrast is affected by size and by shape.

Simultaneous contrast is not always effective, particularly when the contrasting elements have the same hue and intensity (top), or the same chroma and intensity (bottom). 47 Hue frequently describes a sucessful simultaneous contrast when intensity or value should be attributed. 48

contrast when intensity or value should be attributed. 4 8 Complementary contrasts do not produce the
contrast when intensity or value should be attributed. 4 8 Complementary contrasts do not produce the
contrast when intensity or value should be attributed. 4 8 Complementary contrasts do not produce the

Complementary contrasts do not produce the same vibrating energy. 49

Conclusion

It is impossible to teach an experience. Color theory evolved from observational intution to rational conclusions that sometimes contradicted real-world experience. The Bauhaus educators Itten, and to a lesser degree Albers, made color theory accessible to the masses but emphasized rational all- or-nothing conclusions through controlled classroom experiments that hindered students later works. Today, Itten’s color theory seem better suited for graphic and interior design, where the interplay of environment and perspective is minimal. The Bauhaus influence is obvious in Pop Artist painters

The Bauhaus influence is obvious in Pop Artist painters Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn” such as Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn”

such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

“Marilyn” such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Roy Lichtenstein, “The Kiss IV” Color theory should

Roy Lichtenstein, “The Kiss IV”

Color theory should not be abandoned but should instead be tempered with observations of nature, guiding the artist to catch incomplete or inappropriate conclusions. The Bauhaus foundations aid the artist to successful design, but he should not feel restricted by their use when creating or critiquing. To illustrate, there is a growing movement of designers who reject the Bauhaus foundations. Steven Heller, a New York graphic designer, was asked if he studied the color theories of Josef Albers.

“Nope. Although I appreciate any kind of formal analysis that serves as a touchstone. The famous psychedelic poster artist Victor Moscoso studied with Albers at Yale and totally REJECTED his ideas, which in turn provided the form language of psychedelic posters.” 50

In short, remember art and color theory is subjective.

in turn provided the form language of psychedelic posters.” 5 0 In short, remember art and

Josef Albers, continued:

Albers’ rigid curriculum affected his instuction of the study of color. In order to avoid the random variables of mixing pigments, Albers worked with cut and torn papers. Each color sheet was numbered and thus results could be standardized. In his discussions with the relationship of shape and color, Albers felt shape should be subjugated because “oppositional relationships detract from what is happening with color”. 32

Albers’ main theories 33 are:

with color”. 3 2 Albers’ main theories 3 3 are: Top: The inner colors are the

Top: The inner colors are the same but look different. Bottom: The inner colors are different but look the same.

Bottom: The inner colors are different but look the same. Saturated complementary colors next to each

Saturated complementary colors next to each other will have hard edges that vibrate.

Ambient and reflected light alters color perception.

Psychological associations with different colors are situation specific.

Colors shift relative to their backgrounds: a green looks more

yellow on blue, more blue on yellow.

Similar colors next to each other will have soft edges that blur.

colors next to each other will have soft edges that blur. The picture looks like four

The picture looks like four different colored squares with a transparent folded square on top of them. The transpar- ency is actually just different blocks of color that are just slightly different then their sorroundings, placed on top of the squares. Ultimately you have to remember that color is absolute and that it is always relative to its surroundings. 34

Albers used the color boundary problem to refute the prevailing theory of warm colors advancing and cool colors receding. “When one color butts another color, it forms a line. The line may be soft or hard according to values. Colors that are far apart in value create a hard line; colors that are close in value create a

create a hard line; colors that are close in value create a Mark Rothko - Orange

Mark Rothko - Orange and Yellow, 1956

soft line. A traditional belief was that cool colors recede and warm colors advance. With the boundary theory, students discovered this was not true -- it was really the boundary lines that determine spatial relationships and not hues.” 35

although “

warm near and cool far, because the former is of longer and the latter shorter wavelength and they are optically registered in different ways. But optical and perceptual registration are not always parallel.” 36

a new theory declares

Considerations and Critique of Color Theory Concepts

“If we accept that human vision can distinguish as many as a million unique

colors, then our lexicon codes less than

a fraction of 1% of that diversity. This

means that color terms inherently carry

a stupefying level of imprecision: we

cannot expect to request a “white” paint and buy a color that will actually match our walls.” 37

Language is imprecise and distorts our view

of color. “

a

“red” wine, a “red” sunset, and

a

“red” face are not at all the same color.” 38

It

is often rare to match an object’s color

from memory.

Artists frequently confuse mixing of light with mixing of pigment. The complements of light and pigment are almost never the same. Additive mixing depends greatly on illumination; subtractive mixing depends greatly on saturation.

Paint varies from brand to brand; it is impossible to develop a standard subtractive mixing color wheel because of the variants of pigments in paint. (substance uncertainty) 39

Artistic design should focus on effectively mixing the colors we see, not how to mix gray colors from paints. The final product will show no trace of the mixing relationships. As a result, painters should understand the visual color wheel and its complements. 40

“It is impossible to create a subtractive color wheel where every color combined with the color opposite it on the wheel will mix to gray. This type of color wheel, which is found in many books for artists, (1) can only be approximate; (2) applies only to complex subtractive mixture, not to color vision; and (3) precludes understanding many other things about color.” 41

Paint color is affected by water, texture, technique, varnish, and drying agents. Overreliance on the color wheel can lead to inaccurate color design; artists should be more improvisational and therefore mix paints, not colors. 42

Saturation has nothing to do with whether or not a color is a primary. In fact, the duller one or more colors are, the duller the mixture.

Saturation varies from paint to paint.

Primary colors are subjective. Newton was among the first to define primary colors and he defined them as every color in the spectrum, including white. Red, yellow, and blue were defined as primary colors in the eighteenth century; artists prior to that time got along just fine without the concept.

Warm colors become more saturated and cool colors become darker and duller when exposed to late afternoon, candle or incandescent light. At noon, however, greens become brighter and violets become duller.

Depth perception is not affected by color.

Beware of the adage (and one of Itten’s theories), warm colors advance, cool colors recede.

If a sunset appears behind blue distant mountains, why does the red persist in being optically behind the mountains? A noon blue sky radiates more heat, so why isn’t blue warm? Snow is white, why isn’t white cool? Why is red warmer than white, if white hot is much hotter than red hot? 43

Lightness and saturation explain the mood effects associated with warm or cool colors.

History of Color Theory, continued:

warm or cool colors. History of Color Theory, continued: In 1666, Sir Issac Newton conducted his

In 1666, Sir Issac Newton conducted his famous experiment proving the origin of color in nature; using a prism, he was able to divide white light into its seven spectral primary hues of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet (ROY G BIV).

Sir Issac Newton

In 1704, Newton published Opticks, containing his observations on light. In Opticks, Newton described the seven

colors in relation to one another using a circular diagram. 7 Newton also went on to define the difference between hue, an object’s color, and luminosity, the intensity of a color’s lightness or darkness. As

a result, Newton

rejected the Aristotlean belief that color was

a mixture of light and darkness. 8

belief that color was a mixture of light and darkness. 8 Newton’s Color Wheel Newton’s influence

Newton’s Color Wheel

Newton’s influence affected and advanced color theory in the early 1700s. In 1702, Robert Boyle wrote red, yellow, and blue were the “simple” colors. 9 Moses Harris wrote “The Natural System of Colors” in 1766, reiterating red, yellow, and blue as being primary colors or “primitives”. Harris went on to define the mixture of these primitives as producing “compound” hues of orange, green, and purple. Harris expanded Newton’s color wheel to illustrate the primary colors and secondary colors as

to illustrate the primary colors and secondary colors as Moses Harris’ Color Wheel well as their

Moses Harris’ Color Wheel

well as their tints, tones, and shades. 10 Writing in the 1770s, Jakob Christof Le Blon also believed red, yellow, and blue were primary colors, stating:

“Painting can represent all visible objects with three colors, yellow, red, and blue: for all these colors can be compos’d of these three.” 11

Le Blon went on to define the difference between the “material” colors of the painter and the “impalpable” colors of light. 12 By the early 1800s, the scientist Thomas Young was able to definitively reconstitute the colors of the spectrum back into white light. Young showed how mixing light was very different from mixing pigments. Green light and red light produced yellow; blue light and green light producedon to define the difference between the “material” colors of the painter and the “impalpable” colors

Additive Mixing (top) Subtractive Mixing (bottom)

cyan blue; and red

light and blue light produced magenta. Frequently taken for granted that the color wheel for light and pigment are the same, Le Blon and Young were among the first color theorists to distinguish the difference between additive mixing (top, mixing color with light) and subtractive mixing (bottom, mixing color with pigment).Mixing (top) Subtractive Mixing (bottom) cyan blue; and red In 1810, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published

In 1810, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published his Theory of Colors. Goethe relied more on observation and conjecture than the scientific method. Consequently, Goethe’s explorations continue to be controversial and ridiculed. Irritated Newton had excluded many subjective color experiences such as transparency and aftermages, Goethe frequently attacked Newton’s color theory, which he called an “old nest of rats and owls”. 13

Goethe resurrected Aristotle’s belief that color results when light mixes with dark.

“Yellow is a light which has been dampened by darkness; Blue is a darkness weakened by the light.” 14

Despite informal observations and frequent speculation, Goethe progresses color theory with his proposal of a symmetric six-color, color wheel.

Goethe writes,

“The chromatic

six-color, color wheel. Goethe writes, “The chromatic Goethe’s Color Wheel [is] arranged in a general way

Goethe’s Color Wheel

[is] arranged

in a general way according to the natural order for the colours diametrically opposed to each other in this diagram are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye. Thus, yellow demands

violet; orange, blue; red, green; and

vice versa: thus

gradations reciprocally evoke each other; the simpler colour demanding the compound, and vice versa.” 15

circle

all intermediate

Though the theory of complementary contrasts was well known and described several times prior (da Vinci, Moses Harris, etc), Goethe is successful in popularizing it.

Moses Harris, etc), Goethe is successful in popularizing it. Goethe also studied afterimages. Goethe drew the

Goethe also studied afterimages. Goethe drew the “Picture of a Girl in Reverse Colors” after gazing at a girl in a pub and then looking at a wall. He observed a black face surrounded by white with each of the complementary colors in his gaze being reversed. 16

Goethe’s “Picture of a Girl

in Reverse Colors”

each of the complementary colors in his gaze being reversed. 1 6 Goethe’s “Picture of a

History of Color Theory, continued:

History of Color Theory, continued: Michel-Eugene Chevreul In 1839, the French chemist Michel-Eugene Chevreul wrote “The

Michel-Eugene Chevreul

In 1839, the French chemist Michel-Eugene Chevreul wrote “The Law of Simultaneous Color Contrast”. Chevreul worked for twenty-eight years at a textile factory in Paris,

where he researched the chemical dyes for use on fabrics and textiles. Chevreul drew from his experiences and developed one of the first studies of color perception, creating a compendium of previous theories of color contrast.

Chevreul’s main theories are:

theories of color contrast. Chevreul’s main theories are: Each one of the three horizontal center bars

Each one of the three horizontal center bars is of one single color only. Due to the surrounding colors that impression is changed.

Due to the surrounding colors that impression is changed. simultaneous contrast: “Two adjacent colours, when seen

simultaneous contrast: “Two adjacent colours, when seen by the eye, will appear as dissimilar as possible” 17 , or two colors, side by side, interacting with one another and thus changing its overall perception. The contrast is greatest when the two colors are complementary.

successive

contrast: negative

afterimages.

Staring at the apple and then looking at a white wall will create an afterimage of the apple with more appropriate colors.

mixed contrast: afer two colors are viewed one after another, the second color is mixed with the negative afterimage of the first color.

dull or near neutral colors will make saturated colors more intense. 18

Chevreul’s observations were riddled with mistakes and not groundbreaking as color theorists as early as Aristotle were aware of Chevreul’s concepts. Da Vinci writes in

1651,

“Of colors of equal lightness, that will

look brightest which is against the darkest background, and black will display itself at its darkest against a background of greatest whiteness. And red will look most fierce against the yellowest background, as do all colors surrounded by their directly contrary color?” 19 Chevreul frequently referred to additive and subtractive mixing as the same concept, believing primary colors are derived from red, yellow, and blue light. Chevreul believed hue was the most important color attribute 20 and used tone (intensity) interchangably with lightness and saturation. 21 Finally, Chevreul’s color wheel of twelve hues utlized the wrong complements and thus “made mud”. 22

In 1872, Ewald Hering, a pioneer in understanding how the human eye works, proposed opponent-process color theory. Hering believed the human eye intrepreted color through the use of three opponent channels: red versus green, blue versus yellow, and black versus white (achromatic and detects light-dark variation). Hering’s model predicted color blindness and explained afterimages. 23 Furthermore, Hering’s theory also accounts for color constancy, a phenomenon in which the perceived color of an object remains unchanged under different ambient light conditions. 24

Impressionism, derived from the title of

conditions. 2 4 Impressionism, derived from the title of Impression, Sunrise a Claude Monet work, Impression,

Impression, Sunrise

a Claude

Monet work,

Impression,

Sunrise, was

a nineteenth

century art

movement.

Impressionist

technique

celebrates light

and water,

ordinary

subject

matter, and

emphasizes

human

perceptions

and experiences.

matter, and emphasizes human perceptions and experiences. Monet’s Waterlilies The Impressionists relied on optical

Monet’s Waterlilies

The Impressionists relied on optical mixing to quickly capture the essence of their subject, rather than its details. Natural light is emphasized and there is little to no transparency. The Impressionists almost all used impasto, a technique where paint is applied very thickly, often mixed on the canvas itself. Impressionist paintings avoided black paint and instead utilized grays and dark tones produced by mixing complementary colors.

First described in 1905, Albert H. Munsell described his color model in the “Munsell Book of Color”. Designed to describe color for artists and teach color to children, 25 Munsell gave equal weight to the color attributes hue, value, and chroma.

Munsell’s model stressed uniformity, allowed for accurate complementary colors, and developed a system to find and replicate colors using a color sample chart.

Munsell’s Color System

colors using a color sample chart. Munsell’s Color System The Bauhaus In 1919, the Bauhaus school

The Bauhaus

In 1919, the Bauhaus school was founded

in the Weimar Republic, occuring just after Germany’s defeat in World War I. Through this climate of political and cultural upheaval, art was to become available to

anyone “without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between

craftsman and artist”. 26

increasingly industrial, functional and mass produced. The Bauhaus rejected the emotional subjectivity of the Impressionists and demanded art be expressed in objective rational terms. German expressionists, such as Paul Klee and Wasily Kandinsky, continued to flourish and taught their techniques in the new school.

Art became

Since one of the chief aims of the Bauhaus was to make art available to everyone and since German industry was preparing for the coming war, classrooms were needed to educate the new Bauhaus students.

Johannes Itten

needed to educate the new Bauhaus students. Johannes Itten Johannes Itten was one of the first

Johannes Itten was one of the first instructors at the Bauhaus. Itten was a follower of Mazdaznan, a religious health movement focusing on breathing, vegetarian diet, colonic irrigation, and body culture. Throughout his stay at the Bauhaus, Itten became increasingly radical with his following of Mazdaznan, appearing in class with a shaven head, crimson robe, and demanding his students practice its precepts. Itten’s eccentric behavior alienated his pupils and contemporaries, eventually leading to his forced resignation from the Bauhaus. 27

Johannes Itten

Itten’s main theories of color contrast 28 are:

Itten’s main theories of color contrast 2 8 are: Contrast of saturation: juxtaposition of more or
Itten’s main theories of color contrast 2 8 are: Contrast of saturation: juxtaposition of more or
Itten’s main theories of color contrast 2 8 are: Contrast of saturation: juxtaposition of more or

Contrast of

saturation:

juxtaposition of more or less saturated colors.

Contrast of light and dark: contrast formed by light and dark values. (Could also be an achromatic composition).

Contrast of extension or contrast of proportion: based on the relative areas of two or more areas of color, such as large and small, or much and little.

“If one says “Red” (the name of a color) and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.

Even when a certain color is specified which all listeners have seen innumerable times --- such as the red of the Coca-Cola, the same red all over the country -- they will still think of many different reds.

Even if all the listeners have hundreds of reds in front of them from which to choose the Coca-Cola red, they will again select quite different colors. And no one can be sure that he has found the precise red shade.

And even if that round red Coca-Cola sign with the white name in the middle is actually shown so that everyone focuses on the same red middle, each will perceive the same projection on his retina but no one can be sure wheher each has the same projection.” 29 -- Josef Albers, “Interaction of Color”

2 9 -- Josef Albers, “Interaction of Color” Contrast of complements: formed by the juxtaposition of
2 9 -- Josef Albers, “Interaction of Color” Contrast of complements: formed by the juxtaposition of
2 9 -- Josef Albers, “Interaction of Color” Contrast of complements: formed by the juxtaposition of
2 9 -- Josef Albers, “Interaction of Color” Contrast of complements: formed by the juxtaposition of

Contrast of

complements:

formed by the juxtaposition of color wheel or perceptual opposites.

Simultaneous contrast: contrast formed when adjacent hues perceptually vibrate as they optically mix.

Josef Albers

Josef Albers was also an instructor at the Bauhaus. Unlike previous color theorists, Albers is an accomplished teacher. “Albers was extremely rational in his approach

teacher. “Albers was extremely rational in his approach Josef Albers The implications of Albers’ view are

Josef Albers

The

implications of Albers’ view are that artists work with objectives in mind, and they do not meander aimlessly in a purely reactive [emotional] manner Albers explained to our class one time,

Contrast of hue:

“that in order to be a good teacher, you had to be a good actor.” There would be times in dealing with students when you might be extremely angry with a student, but it was a time to speak

in the best interest of the student to

juxtaposition of colors at their most intense.

softly and be encouraging. Likewise, there might be an instance where it was

affect great anger even though you felt

Contrast of warm and cool:

none when students can anticipate a teacher, much of that teacher’s effectiveness as an instructor is lost.” 30 Albers encouraged his students to explore color effects on their own, allowing the

Albers

often commented that

As previously stated, Albers approach

juxtaposition of hues that are considered warm or cool. The

student to teach themselves.

claim that warm

was extremely rational. He “threatened

colors advance and

students with hell and damnation

if

they

cool colors recede was advanced by Itten.

had doodles, phone numbers, cartoons, messages, or anything other than serious sketching” 31 in their sketchooks. He did not like crumpled or dirty pages, banned charcoal drawings, and demanded his student only work with sharpened pencils.

did not like crumpled or dirty pages, banned charcoal drawings, and demanded his student only work