Sunday, March 13, 2016


Ada is on sabbatical for a moment doing research on her next book. In the mean time...

I've known for quite some time that color theory is important in art, both in terms of writing and of course in visual arts. But until I delved deeper into visual arts for myself, it had always been something I read about other artists 'doing.' Often, though, the color symbolism had greater sticking power in my head.

Part of the reason is that I was afraid of color. This is because I know I don't see it the same way everyone else does. I am red-green colorblind, which is pretty common. As an epistemological exercise it's fairly interesting. For one, yes, I can see red and green. When they mix (as often happens in pigments for brown, or Xmas) I have some trouble "seeing" the red upon the green. But it also affects different shades as well.

One advantage of using a digital process is that Illustrator or Photoshop can assign colors and palettes absolutely.  But what can color mean?

If a particular body of visual artwork, even done by different artists in drastically different styles has some sort of basic color palette, the viewer automatically makes certain conclusions and taps into prior knowledge and culture in interpreting a given message.

It may not even be outwardly figurative. Consider this symbol.

In this case, many people would recognize this as a "male" symbol. Avid fans of Marvel comics would perhaps recognize the secondary layer of color symbolism.  I think comics are an excellent example because you can draw Superman however you want, even in a Mondrian-style composition, but just make sure the blue, red, and yellow (and maybe some black for his hair) are present and a DC comics fan will not only know who you are talking about but have full access to the shared and stored knowledge of Krypton.

To sum up, the colors present an immediate context wherein an artist can effectively communicate with the audience.

But what about more idiosyncratic approaches: those approaches that express an artists individual ontology?

I knew that Franz Marc used different colors to represent different moods and conceptions. In this case, the colors are primarily symbolic and are part of a representation-system. The obscurity of the system and its referents depends on how well known the author actually is.
"Blue is the male principle, astringent and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, gay and spiritual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the color to be opposed and overcome by the other two."*
In this particular case, Marc and I differ. For me  blue is a color of peace and serenity.  Yellow is often cautionary, it warns you of something. Green depends on the shade and has too many referents to the natural world (although the green ambient light beneath a maple grove is my favorite).  Red is choked with remnants of a general notion of lust, blood, and energy.

As quoted above, Yellow was Marc's color for femininity. My color for femininity?

Purple is sovereign and solitary. While it is rational almost to the point of unknowable coldness, the emotions within Purple move in a sublimity that is vast and beautifully dark. Purple is the color of Outside. It is the night deepening upon the evening.

In other words, Purple is Ada's color.

A little Expressionism while she's away.
When Ada is presented in full purples, watch out! She is at the height of her powers, her mind flows freely like the river of a burst dam. She is also emoting heavily. It could be in lust, or hatred which she will be quick to point out, are often the same thing. Above all, she has reached a point where the ephemera of this world are no longer her concern: the small aspects of causality and frantic details; it is awash in aubergine. A lavender nightgown might be the best thing for a summer afternoon. Middle age means enjoying a sunrise in plum colored shorts.

In Ada's case, purple does not mean royalty, although the Tyrian purple, which is her favorite, was so expensive in antiquity that only royalty could afford it. The same was true of the Murasaki dye in Heian Japan (needless to say, one of Ada's favorite epochs as well).  No, purple sits between Red and Blue. Outside of them, if you will, and it is beautiful all the more for that.

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