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  • 1. Understanding ColorChapter 7 Color Theory: A Brief History
  • 2. Questions and ideas about color have a long history. This searchhas produced an enormous libraryof writing known as color theory .
  • 3. The earliest knownwriters on color were the Greek philosophers whowere intrigued by the elusive nature of color.
  • 4. In ancient philosophy, all meaning in the larger universe was related somehow to mathematical order.
  • 5. This idea that beauty and harmony are the natural resultof mathematical order is a premise that is still very much in place today.
  • 6. Pythagorus (c. 569–490 BC) is creditedwith originating theconcept of the“harmony of thespheres.”Raphael, 1509
  • 7. This theorypostulated that theplanets areseparated from eachother by intervalsthat correspond tothe musical scale.
  • 8. Aristotle (c. 384-322BC) was the mostinfluential of theearliest writers oncolor and addressedthe subject bothphilosophically andscientifically.
  • 9. Aristotle thought that allcolors derive from blackand white, or darknessand light, and this ideawas accepted as factuntil the 18th century. Raphael, 1509
  • 10. During the Renaissance,writers like Leonard da Vinci and others wrote abouteverything from the practicalities of mixing pigments to the philosophical and moralmeanings of colors.
  • 11. But it was overalla rather obscure subject until the18th century and the studies ofIsaac Newton .
  • 12. Newton was a product of the Enlightenment during the 18th century. This “Age of Reason” sought to give rational explanations fornatural phenomena to replace the old mystical beliefs.
  • 13. However, thissearch forabsolutesdetermined byscience was asrigid anduncompromising inits way as thedemands ofabsolute faith thatpreceded it.
  • 14. Only the source ofauthority hadchanged, from Godand his earthlyrepresentatives, theclergy, to reasonand its earthlyrepresentatives,men.
  • 15. The intellectual worldof the 18th century was quite fluid. People didn’t think of themselves as writers, biologists, or mathematicians but as “natural philosophers,” and wrote about all sorts of scientific and philosophical topics.
  • 16. Two themes dominated 18th, 19th, andearly 20th century color study: the search for a comprehensive color-order system, including an appropriate format for visualizing it. AND... the laws of color harmony
  • 17. Two towering and and very different figures dominate the beginnings of color theory:
  • 18. Isaac Newton (1642–1727)
  • 19. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832)
  • 20. Newton, working at Cambridge in the late 1690’s, firstsplit sunlight into its component wavelengths by passing it through a prism.
  • 21. He observed that as each wavelength enters a prism it bends or refracts .
  • 22. Because the glass of a prism slows each wavelength down ata slightly different rate, each emerges as a separate beam of light.
  • 23. Newton was able to recombine the separatedbeams with a lens and reconstituted white light.
  • 24. From this he hypothesized the nature of light and the origins of perceived color.
  • 25. He published hisresults in a treatisecalled Opticks, in1703.
  • 26. Newton’sconclusion thatlight alonegenerates colorremains a basis ofmodern physics.
  • 27. Newton separatedthe spectral huesinto seven colors:red, orange yellow,green blue, indigo,and violet.
  • 28. Most people cannotdetect the blue-violet that Newtoncalls “indigo.”
  • 29. Perhaps he was influenced by 17th century thinking thatgave mystical importance to the number 7, or he may have had unusual visual acuity in the blue-violet range.
  • 30. Although the spectrum of light is linear...
  • 31. ...Newton originated the concept of colors a a continuous experience. He diagramed the seven hues as a circle, linking spectral red and violet.
  • 32. This first known illustration ofcolors as a closed circle made of arcs of individual color appeared in Opticks.
  • 33. Newton’s contemporaries viewed Opticks as a work on the nature of color , not on the nature of light . The ideas in it generated tremendous controversy all over Europe.
  • 34. At the same time, the naturalphilosophers were considering light, more pragmaticpeople were tryingto discover how to predictably produce colors by mixing paints or dyes.
  • 35. Jacques ChristopheLe Blon (1667–1741)was a Frenchprintmaker whoidentified the primarynature of red, yellowand blue while mixingpigments for printing.
  • 36. Le Blon’s treatise,Coloritto (c. 1730)offers the firstconcept of threesubtractiveprimary colors.
  • 37. His work attracted a great deal of attention and acceptance because it addressed the practical aspects of using color.Jacques Christophe Le Blon, Van Dyck Self Portrait. Three-colormezzotint, 61.2 x 36.0 cm., c. 1720s. Yale Center for British Art,Paul Mellon Collection.
  • 38. The CMYK colorspace used inprinting today isderived from hiswork.
  • 39. Moses Harris(1731–1785) was anentomologist andengraver who wasfascinated by thecolor of the insectshe studied.
  • 40. He published thefirst known colorcircle in 1766.
  • 41. Harris believed thatred, yellow, andblue were the mostdifferent from eachother and should beplaced at thegreatest possibledistances apart onthe circle.
  • 42. To accomplish this,he discardedNewton’s indigo andcreated anexpanded colorcircle based onequal intervals ofcolor and multiplesof three.
  • 43. Goethe lateradopted Harris’organization ofcolor.
  • 44. Johann Wolfgangvon Goethe wasfascinated by color.
  • 45. Goethe spent agreat deal of energy trying to prove that Newton’s color theories were wrong.
  • 46. He rejectedNewton’s assertion that color comes from light and insisted it was anexperienced reality. Goethe’s Color Wheel
  • 47. He also proposed notions about theassociation of color and beauty with morality. He evensaid that there were sinful and chaste colors. Goethe’s Color Wheel
  • 48. Goethe was first to recognize the importance of theinteraction between complementary colors. He called them “completing colors.”
  • 49. Goethe also reported extensively onsimultaneous contrast and afterimage.
  • 50. Otto Philip Runge(1770–1840) sharedGoethe’s belief inthe importance ofcomplementarycolors.
  • 51. Runge was apainter anddeveloped the firstthree dimensionalmodel for color, theColor Sphere.
  • 52. It was published in a book he wrote called Farken Kugel.
  • 53. Goethe’s observations were so wide-ranging andfundamental that almost every concept in modern color study can be found in his writing.
  • 54. Goethe’s most familiar contribution to color study is the six-hue color circle.
  • 55. Even though he first believed that the only primaries were blue and yellow!!!
  • 56. Goethe’s French contemporary was Michel EugeneChevreul (1786–1889).
  • 57. Chevreul was Master of the Gobelin Tapestry Worksand was mostly concerned with the practical difficulties with producing consistent dyes.
  • 58. He accepted the three primary colors theory and alsoobserved the phenomenon of simultaneous contrast. Chevreul at age 100 in his studio-laboratory.
  • 59. His 1839treatise had aprofoundinfluence ontheImpressionistmovement inpainting.
  • 60. The battle between Goethe’s six-huespectrum and Newton’s seven-color model was unnecessary because both are valid but describe different reality:
  • 61. Newton was looking at causes .
  • 62. Goethe was looking at effects .
  • 63. In the past, science students and art students were not usually the samestudents, so the difference in the two ideas rarely came into conflict.
  • 64. Today’s designers and students of design mustunderstand both cause and effect and be able to work within–and between–both realities.
  • 65. Ostwald MunsellAfter Goethe and Chevreul, most of the late 19th and early 20th century color theorists worked in rigidly formal scientific systems.
  • 66. Ostwald Munsell The stress was on rules, control and order: the goal was to create a comprehensive color-order systemand to find within it immutable laws of color harmony.
  • 67. Albert Munsell (1858–1918)developed his3-dimensionalcolor model in 1921.
  • 68. Published in A Grammar of Color, Munsell proposed a “color tree” with infinite room for expansion.
  • 69. Munsell’s color space is constructed as progressiveintervals of hue that rotate around a vertical axis of value from black to white.
  • 70. In Munsell’s theoryevery possible colorcannot be shown buteach has anassigned place on analphanumeric scale.
  • 71. Chroma is Munsell’sword for saturation.
  • 72. The problem with this system is that it does not take into account the tertiaries . Nowhere on the color tree can youfind colors mixed with their complements to reduce saturation.
  • 73. In the Munsell System, reduction of saturation is achieved by mixing the hues with gray in graduated steps.
  • 74. Color numberingsystems have greatvalue when they areused to communicatecolor informationbetween individualswho have reference tothe same set ofstandards.
  • 75. But these systems aremeaningless as anaid tounderstandingcolor.
  • 76. Munsell was not immune to the moralizing associations of his predecessors asserting that certain colors implied goodtaste and others poor taste.
  • 77. His system is still in use today, butwithout the original commentary.
  • 78. A hypothetical color solid (or color displayed in 3- dimensions) is a frequent theme inscholarly color-order systems.
  • 79. German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald(1853–1932) brought the conceptual color solid to full-blown theory in Color Science.
  • 80. The Color Primer withits eight-hue spectrum became mandatory for color study in German schools andin many English ones.
  • 81. It was a stronginfluence on artists of the Bauhaus movement.
  • 82. Wilhelm von Bezold (1837–1932)contributed scientific fact to the growingbody of color writing.
  • 83. Bezold is best known for the “Bezold Effect” whichsays that forms enclosed by light lines appear lighter and vice versa.
  • 84. Ludwig VonHelmholtz (1821–1894) alsocontributed to colorstudies.
  • 85. He is known for hismathematics of theeye, theories of vision, ideason the visualperception ofspace, and his colorvision research.
  • 86. By the early20th century,color study hadbecome anenormous andwide-rangingtopic, positioneduncomfortablywith one foot inthe sciencesand other in thearts.
  • 87. It remained for the artists and designers of the Bauhaus to end this ambiguity.
  • 88. The Bauhaus was adesign groupfounded in 1919 byGerman architectWalter Gropius(1883–1969).
  • 89. The Bauhaus group brought the study ofcolor to a levelof attention not seen since Goethe’s challenge to Newton.
  • 90. These Bauhausmaster studentsof color andcolor theoryapproachedcolor from newdirections withintelligence, wit,and energy...
  • 91. Lyonel Feininger
  • 92. Paul Klee
  • 93. Wassily Kandinsky
  • 94. Johannes Itten
  • 95. Josef Albers
  • 96. Oskar Schlemmer
  • 97. These artists and writers made the definitive breakbetween the study of color as science and the study of color as art and aesthetics.
  • 98. Johannes Itten (1888–1967) followed Goethe in exploring color as a series of contrastsystems and opposing forces.
  • 99. He theorizedsevencontrasts ofcolor basedonperceptionsalone:
  • 100. Contrast of:saturationhuevaluewarm & cool contrastcomplementary contrastsimultaneous contrastextension (area)
  • 101. Itten codified color harmonies as a series of chords basedon the complementary relationship and diagramed them as geometric forms.
  • 102. Itten’s approach, althoughmathematically based,is much less rigid thanmany that preceded it.
  • 103. Itten’s focus was as much on individual perception as on mathematical relationships.
  • 104. His major work is entitled, The Art of Color
  • 105. Color-order systems were the first concern of theoristsbecause a formal system establishes a structured field in which to search for laws of color harmony.
  • 106. The primary focus of that search was on the relationshipbetween hues. Value and saturation took a back seat to hue.
  • 107. Among all the major figures in color study, there wasagreement that balance between complementary colors was the first principle of color harmony.
  • 108. The ancient idealof mathematicalbalance was somuch a part of thesearch for laws ofharmony that hueswere frequentlyassociated withnumbers orgeometric forms.
  • 109. Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) theorized that equal light-reflectance in spectrum colors is inherently harmonious.
  • 110. Schopenhauer’s Circle of Color Harmony is made up ofunequal arcs. Each complementary pair is meant to beequal in light-reflectance to each of the other two pairs.
  • 111. Every color is assigned a number representing itslight-reflectance (or value) in relation to the others.
  • 112. The total of all the numbers added together is 36, or 360 degrees, a full circle.
  • 113. Schopenhauer’s theory can be deceptive;a large area of violet does not necessarily reflect the same amount of light as a smaller area of yellow.
  • 114. But we do sense value differences between pure colors.
  • 115. Schopenhauer’s theory can be illustrated as striped tee shirts. In order for each shirt to be harmonious, thecomplementary pairs must have different ratios: 1 to 1, 1 to 2, and 1 to 3.
  • 116. In Itten’s quest for color harmony, he superimposed geometric forms(squares, rectangles, triangles, and hexagons) over the artists’ spectrum todemonstrate what he called “harmonious chords.”
  • 117. Each color chord illustratescomplementary colors in some measurable proportion.
  • 118. The geometric pointsare called the “notes”and no “chord” strays from the complementary relationship.
  • 119. The person who madethe final break with thecolor-order traditionwas Josef Albers(1888–1976), acolleague of Itten’swho also taught at theBauhaus school.
  • 120. Albers fled NaziGermany in the early 1930’s with his wife, the weaver Anni Albers.
  • 121. They taught first at the Black MountainSchool in North Carolina and later at Yale.
  • 122. Albersbecame themostinfluentialname in colortheory in theUnited States.
  • 123. However, his1963 bookInteraction ofColors containednothing like theusual charts orsystems.
  • 124. Albers taught thattrueunderstanding ofcolor comes froman intuitiveapproach to studioexercises.
  • 125. He stressed the instability and relativity of perceived colors and the power of visual training.
  • 126. At the same time, he taught that even within this unstablefield, there are effects that can be predicted and controlled.
  • 127. In Interaction of Colors, Albers casually discounts the generations of theory that preceded him.
  • 128. “Thisbook...reversesthis order andplaces practicebefore theory,which is, after all,the conclusion ofpractice,” he wrote.
  • 129. Albers was not thefirst to recognizethat the visualexperience, morethan consciouschoice, determineshow we perceivecolors, but he wasthe first to assertthe primacy of thevisual experienceover structure orintellectualconsiderations.
  • 130. For Albers, thevisual experience, not theory, was paramount.
  • 131. The late 20th century saw the focus of color studymove from philosophical inquiry to a greater interest in psychological and motivational effects of colors.
  • 132. There is an entire industry, for example, that is devotedto determining current and future consumer preferences in colors and color combinations.
  • 133. At the same time, color theorists continue to search for absolutes.
  • 134. There is an enduring assumption–or perhaps, a hope–that those elusive,timeless, and absolute lawsfor pleasing combinations of colors really do exist and simply await discovery.

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