Notes on colour

Every perception of color is an illusion, we do not see colors as they really are. In our perception they alter one another.

—Josef Albers

If you are interested in colour, it’s a good idea to look into the work done in this field at the Bauhaus, considered to be one of the most influential schools of art and design of the 20th century. Among its most prominent teachers were; Anni & Josef Albers, Johannes Itten, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. All of whom did very solid work in the field of colour studies.

The study of colour done by the students at the Bauhaus was shaped by a diverse body of previously developed artistic, psychological, and scientific theories of color, but just as important: tested and innovated through practical exercises.

Farbenkugel in 7 Lichtstufen und 12 Tönen (Color sphere in 7 light values and 12 tones), Johannes Itten, 1921. 

For Josef Albers, “sight” signified not just the optical mechanics of the eye and the physical properties of light waves but also the perception of inner states.

Combined, he said, these different ways of seeing formed one’s view of the world. Therefore, in line with his conviction, Albers considered a person’s world view to be highly subjective.

“If one says ‘Red’ (the name of a color) and there are 50 people listening, it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.7

—Josef Albers

Tint study for Josef Albers’s Preliminary Course, Heinrich-Siegfried Bormann, 1931. Gouache, graphite, and ink on paper. 

If Albers is right in thinking that sight include the perception of inner states, it follows that art is not primarily an object, it is an experience.

Only those who love color are admitted to its beauty and immanent presence. It affords utility to all, but unveils its deeper mysteries only to its devotees.

— Johannes Itten

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Rio says:

    Lovely to read these ideas about colour. I got so upset when I over heard people complain about “the voice of fire” at the Canadian National Art Museum. When you stand close and see it, because of the size, everything else disappears. I felt that I disappeared. It was a profound experience for me. Two nuns were complaining about how it was a waste of money that should have been spent on helping the poor. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t feel what I felt. But I kept opinion to myself. A lot of people were angry about the purchase.

  2. bluebrightly says:

    A pleasure to look at and read! I agree with Albers’ statement about color subjectivity and your logical conclusion is perfect. Art as experience, not object. Yes.

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