HISTORY AND PHILOSOPHY OF COLOR

   

    While a collection of books on design and applied art has an inherent bias

that favors the practical concerns of students and practitioners, this section

includes some interesting books that examine color from a color history or

philosophy viewpoint. The books in this section discuss the nature or

meaning of color using the methods of historical or philosophical inquiry.

Some books offer a historic  view of color theory.

    The highly recommended titles are accompanied by supporting visual

documentation and are clearly written. Ideally, the best books allow the

dedicated nonspecialist to follow the discussion.




106. Brusatin, Manlio. A History of Colors. Translated by Robert H.

Hopcke and Paul Schwartz. Boston: Shambhala, 1991. 172 pp. Index,

notes. B/Willus. ISBN: 0-87773-524-7.

    This highly readable color history spans a “territory with ragged

borders located somewhere between the sciences and the arts, between

physics and psychology, a land whose configuration constitutes a border

between two diverse cultures.” Both cultures figure in this story of the

development of color theory, which tells how dyes and pigments were made

and discusses their social context. In a chapter on “Color as Figure and

Fate,” the way color in dress is imbued with meaning is illustrated by the

triumph of black garb in Reformation societies. The “Color and Forms”

chapter describes the formularies that preserved the knowledge of dyes,

paints, and craft substances from ancient workshops that inspired the 19th-

century reemergence of historic crafts that culminated in William Morris

and Mariano Fortuny fabrics. The many engaging color concepts and well-

integrated references to the innovative ideas of Newton, Cennini, Voltaire,

Goethe, Delacroix, Kandinsky, Wittgenstein, Friehling, Kueppers, and

others, enhance this work. The statement that Thomas Young (1773-1829)

took his lead from Hermann von Helmholtz needs correction since von

Helmholtz was not born until 1821. The useful chapter notes and the

unannotated bibliography of 150 items offer access to the international color

literature. The lack of colored illustrations, with the exception of the cover,

is regrettable.


107.Hardin, L. L. Color for Philosophers: Unweaving the Rainbow.

Indianapolis: Hacket, 1988. 243 pp. Index, bibl., glossary, B/W illus,

color illus. ISBN 0-87220-040-X.

    Writing from the viewpoint of a philosopher attracted to color

science, Hardin sketches out some of the scientific facts from the literature

of color vision since the 1950s and provides access to relevant and

important scientific material on color in this highly acclaimed reference. He

encourages other philosophers to “come to grips with relevant scientific

material‚” and to inform their own writings on color with knowledge. Major

sections on color perception and science, the ontology of color, and the

phenomenology and physiology of color will challenge the the non-

specialist. However, the dedicated reader will find it convenient to have a

reliable overview of hitherto scattered material in one well-documented and

carefully written reference.


108. Hilbert, David R. Color and Color Perception. Menlo Park, CA: Center for

the Study of Language and Information, 1987. CSLI Lecture Notes 9. 146

pp. Bibl., endnotes/footnotes. ISBN 0-937973.

    Hilbert discusses the perception of color from a philosophical

viewpoint. He argues that “color is surface spectral reflectance” and

therefore objective. Those concerned with the philosophical argument over

the subjectivity or objectivity of color will find this book interesting.


109. Proskauer, Heinrich O. Rediscovery of Color: Goethe Versus Newton

Today. Translated by Peter Stebbing. Spring Valley, NY: Anthroposophic

Press, 1986. 159 pp. Bibl., endnotes/footnotes, color illus. ISBN 0-880-

10088-5.

    Originally published in German in 1951, this is an effort to vindicate

Goethe’s scientific work on color and to recognize his achievements. The

step-by-step examination of the “Didactic Part” of Goethe’s Color Theory

attempts to demonstrate the errors in many then-accepted color dogmas

while providing a more correct understanding of Goethe’s phenomenological

approach to color. To fully experience and understand Goethe’s approach to

color, the author provides a prism and 16 black-and-white and color plates

with instructions for their use. This philosophic and poetic approach to

color, combined with firsthand observation may appeal to those who study

Goethe’s color experiments.


110. Sloane, Patricia. The Visual Nature of Color. NY: Design Press

1989. 342 pp. Index, bibl., B/W iillus, color illus. ISBN 0-8036-5500-X.

    Patricia Sloane’s writings on color include Colour: Basic Principles

and New Directions (1967), a dissertation on color from New York

University, and many journal articles. In this unflinching examination of the

conflicting color theories based on physics, psychology, and color vision

she debates often unexamined assumptions underlying dogmatic Western

color theories. Under five major topics - -color and language, color and

light, color and form, color and culture, and color theory -- she discusses 35

important aspects of color. The historical basis for color theories is

documented and woven into her discussions. Sloane “argues for a balance

between theories about the invisible causes of color and theories that deal

more profoundly with color’s phenomenological nature, that are rooted in

visual experience and in intelligent assessment of that experience.” This is a

challenging work aimed at the serious reader intent on discovering what the

visual nature of color is and is not.


111. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Remarks on Colour. Berkeley: University of

California Press, 1977. 126 pp. ISBN 0-520-03335-3.

    Wittgenstein writes informally about his color philosophy and

compares it with the philosophies of others. He explores color vocabulary

and meaning in a text presented in German and English on alternating

pages. While some may find this a charming and thought-provoking little

book, others will be disturbed by the organization and format which

consists of 350 numbered paragraphs without headings, illustrations,

documentation, bibliography or index.


112. Wright, W. D. The Rays Are Not Coloured: Essays on the Science of

Vision and Colour.  London: Adam Hilger, 1967. 154 pp. Bibl., color llus.

    This intriguing collection of essays gathers nine lectures into one

convenient source for a wider audience, including those who make no claim

to being scientists. The first essay describes how the “light which enters our

eyes contains the characteristic imprints of both the illuminant and the

surface. This is the heart of the colour-rendering problem.” Then he

considers how tungsten and fluorescent lighting distort color rendering,

discusses the merits of each light for a particular function, and moves on to

iridescence in beetles and birds. In “Towards a Philosophy of Colour” he

asks what is color and what is color for, and searches for a “harmony of

conception about colour that is universally acceptable--not just to the

colorimetrists or the psychologists or the dyers--but to everyone.” He shows

us that “color is subjective since it is generated within us in the visual cortex

but is transformed through the combined operation of our space and colour

perceiving process into something objective and material.” The chapter “A

Course on Colour For Schools” is reprinted in full as the introductory

chapter in Introducing Colour By the Society of Dyers and Colourists

(1975). These imaginative essays offer fascinating connections between daily

experiences and aspects of vision -- that range from the visual task in night

driving, television and the visual process, to diagnostic tests for color vision.

When he ponders the beauty of a rose petal he helps us understand

translucence and other wonders.



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