A Colorful Time of Year- 9.29.2010

“If form is the attribute that makes abstract art intelligible and deserving of attention,…, color is the element that may induce delight and that should imbue the painting with the unique psyche and spirit of the artist.”  Morris Davidson—(Abstract expressionist painter and teacher in NYC in the 50’s and 60’s.)

Color and paint—what could be more delightful!  Anyone who regularly picked their way through a box of 64 Crayola crayons knows what sheer excitement can be felt simply by watching color spill onto the page.  But color theory can take the joy out of those lusciously arranged colors and numb the mind with of its complexities.

This week, in response to Mary’s request to learn more about the function of color, we will dabble in its theories’ history and sprinkle in a few exercises designed to illuminate but hopefully not to bore.

The following is  a VERY brief sketch of color theory history.

Newton in the 1660’s discovered that various mixtures of light, determined by wavelength, made color visible to the human eye and that three colors could not be made by mixing— Red, yellow, and blue. These became known as primary colors. He placed them on a circular diagram to show how primary colors mix to create secondary colors and how secondary colors mix to create tertiary colors, etc. In addition he theorized: that when colors furthest away from each other on the “color wheel” were mixed they made the dullest mixtures—hence complimentary colors make neutrals; and that color harmony can be best achieved by grouping colors closest to each other on the color wheel; and that when complimentary colors are placed next to each other on the picture plane, they cause a certain electricity or brightness. http://www.createarevolution.com/media/blog/body/color_cb.jpg

Goethe who studied the perceptual effects of color in the early 19th century, added another dimension to color theory. “Plus” colors, such as red and orange, generated feelings of warmth while “minus” color, such as blue and green, generated feelings of coldness. This influenced the likes of Kandinsky and Klee in the 20th century who equated color, not only to feelings but to music and to spirituality.

Then along came Hans Hoffman in the 20th century, whose theory of Push/Pull was often dominated by the idea that warm colors came toward the viewer while cool colors receded. He was followed by the master of modern color theory, Joseph Albers whose life work culminated in the demonstrations of how color affected color and visual perception in the “Interaction of Color”.  (For a fun illustration of this try this game at the following link: http://marilynfenn.com/color-theory-exercises/color-theory-exercise-1/ .  On the right hand side of this blog by Marilyn Fenn are 18 of these color illustrations.)

The advent of paint in a tube eliminated the need for much understanding of color propeties as color mixing became less necessary. But mastering as much color knowledge as possible can lead to a certain ease in achieving desired effects–and it can be gleaned by experimentation and play. 

This sketch barely scratches the surface of the hows and whys color and its myriad of effects.  To play around on your own here are 3 simple color exercises (which will be done in class) borrowed from Robert Genn:

Take a small card or canvas and divide it into six areas. The first on my list is an easy one. 

1. Paint a smooth gradation from warm to cool or cool to warm. 

2. Using a red, a yellow and a blue, or a green, a purple and an orange, paint three equal-intensity colours side by side. When you half close your eyes, they should all be about the same value. 

3. Without showing any form, paint something that appears to protrude from something that appears to recede. 

The effects of color will be continually addressed over time in our class meetings.  THE BEST APPROACH TO COLOR IS TO PLAY!

Keep the spirit remember the fun. The science, the technical will come.

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