“On Color” Prompts Us To Think About What We See

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David Scott Kastan, a  George M. Bodman Professor of English at Yale University and Stephen Farthing, an artist and elected member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London and Emeritus Fellow of St. Edmund Hall, the University of Oxford, have collaborated on this beautiful, and educational book about the history of color and how it plays out in the world through art, politics, perceptions and more. On Color (Yale University Press) encourages us to think about what we see, what each color symbolizes  and how it makes us feel.  

 

According to the authors, scientists believe there are more than 17 million different colors.  Red is known to be the color of roses, yet is the rose red or does it just appear to be red? In trying to understand what each individual actually sees, Kastan discusses how length, an objective property, is something that can be proven and verified by measurement, while color is perceived and can only be classified as an aspect… a vague property. 

Did you know there was no Orange before oranges came to Europe?  Van Gogh celebrated the depth of the color in his Basket With Six Oranges, while other artists utilized Orange differently.  How did Yellow become associated with Asians and what does color have to do with racial identity?

Green may be a political color in Ireland but in the United States it has become the color of our environmental movement, and ecological concerns. About 20 percent of people choose Green as their favorite color (I am one of those people).

For centuries, Blue has been the color of despair. Paintings from Picasso’s Blue period depict his depression.  In the 1670s Newton named the color Indigo – at the time, it was a dye to color things blue.  He also changed ROYGBIP (Purple) to ROYGBIV (Violet) and then, in the late 1800s Impressionism embraced Violet.  Controversy surrounded the use of Violet in art because it did not represent the truth, only the trick of the light.  Black is the color of funerals, the fashionable LBD (little black dress) and the color of darkness.  Is White a mixture of all colors?  Does it mean purity?

“Color doesn’t tell us what that meaning is.  We tell the color; and whatever we say it means, we make it mean…”

So much to enjoy and absorb in this insightful and sophisticated exploration of color, art and history within each chapter, along with current perceptions and discussions… 

This beautiful book wouldn’t be complete without mention of the infamous black and blue/white and gold dress that brought color discussion to the forefront and became an internet sensation!  

I highly recommend this book to history lovers, artists, and all who see in color!  The hardcover edition makes a beautiful gift!

On Color is now available to purchase.

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Jennifer Gans Blankfein is a freelance marketing consultant and book reviewer. She graduated from Lehigh University with a Psychology degree and has a background in advertising. Her experience includes event coordination and fundraising along with editing a weekly, local, small business newsletter. Jennifer loves to talk about books, is an avid reader, and currently writes a book blog, Book Nation by Jen. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, two sons and black lab.

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