As we hone in on the impact of color we hopefully get closer to true expression by using our own feelings to dictate its use.
Wassily Kandiinsky, the Russian painter who sought to define abstract art in 1912 wrote On the Spiritual in Art in which he examined the science, the psychological and the physical effects of shape, line and color on the viewer. His thoughts on color: If you let your eye stray over a palette of colors, you experience two things. In the first place you receive a purely physical effect, namely the eye itself is enchanted by the beauty and other qualities of color. You experience satisfaction and delight, like a gourmet savoring a delicacy. Or the eye is stimulated as the tongue is titillated by a spicy dish. But then it grows calm and cool, like a finger after touching ice. These are physical sensations, limited in duration……(sic) Just as we feel at the touch of ice, a sensation of cold, forgotten as soon as the finger becomes warm again, so the physical action of color is forgotten as soon as the eye turns away. On the other hand, as the physical coldness of ice, upon penetrating more deeply, arouses more complex feelings, and indeed a whole chain of psychological experiences, so may also the superficial impression of color develop into an experience…. And so we come to the second result of looking at colors: their psychological effect. They produce a correspondent spiritual vibration, and it is only as a step towards this spiritual vibration that the physical impression is of importance…. Generally speaking, color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.
He also wrote: The sound of colors is so definite that it would be hard to find anyone who would express bright yellow with bass notes or dark lake (a dark, blood, red) with treble…
And indeed—dark paintings are associated with moodiness and drama, just like dark sounds create mood and drama—think Wagner. And pastels and bright colors have their own sensibilities—what kind of music would go with these?–definitely different moods. Just as music affects mood, color has power and influence over us—visualize rooms that are painted bright yellow, or dark red and how they influence.
And after seeing the work of Albers and Hofmann, we know color has an interactive effect. It creates not only mood, but space and tension. Hofmann’s students were called “space cadets” because they learned how to manipulate space through color and form (not using perspective.)
The trick is to harness that power and make it meaningful in your own work by creating balance, harmonies, tension, and a center of interest while responding to your own sensibilities. Susan Rothenberg states that “Red is just part of my internal palette.” For a long time I gravitated to the darks and the neutrals. This last show, I couldn’t stay away from oxide, pinks and flesh tones. I’m not sure why, but I do not it was important to follow that instinct. We all know Sheila is literally lifted by green. Do you have an “internal palette”. How might it reflect or symbolize you?
Pay attention to the colors you want to grab and use them. Then use the knowledge gained by practicing color placement to manage the movement and vitality of color and create space, and move the eye rhythmically through the picture plane. Know that light can glow when placed with complementary darks. And, as Rothko did, starting with a colored ground can help to unify the whole as you place color on top of it. If bits of the ground show through, it can liven what’s on the top. To make a color sing, create a reaction with the colors surrounding it.
Here are the links to the interactive exercises we did in class:
Try deciding how you might play with this before you get started, just so you can observe specific impacts. Attempt using only the lights and the mid-tones, leaving value out of the equation at first. Then make an equal number of shapes cool and an equal number warm. Then switch the background between warm and cool and see what mood or feeling is created with each. Also try the black for background. Create a composition that is “weighted” toward the bottom. Then one in which the shapes float on the ground. And here is the ultimate challenge: see if you can create a type of visual “score”, ala Kandinsky. What would the sound of a brass band look like? A Mozart flute sonata? A Country/Western hoedown, fiddle piece?
“Art is to me the glorification of the human spirit, and as such it is the cultural documentation of the time in which it is produced.” -Hans Hofmann