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Understanding the Facts of Color

Oct 26, 2007
Color is so constantly in evidence in our daily lives that we are inclined to give it almost no conscious attention. We merely accept color, failing not so much in our appreciation of its beauty - for we all like cooler - as in a full realization of what an important part it plays in our daily lives.

Color is a thing to admire consciously or openly only now and then, when particularly called to our attention, as in a sunset or a striking painting. Actually, however, even though we do not realize it, color influences us during practically every waking moment.

We are more contented in harmoniously colored rooms of reasonably distinct hue than in those which are drab; on the contrary, we are disturbed by interiors which are gaudy and crude. We admire clothes of beautiful color and like to have colorful things about us such as books, flowers and pictures. We like the outdoors for its green trees, blue skies and purple hills. Even our food is more appetizing when it is attractive in color than when it is neutral in tone. As color affects our happiness, it in turn affects our health, so its effects are far reaching.

Not the least of its merits is that color serves us in many practical ways. It aids us, for instance, in distinguishing one object from another at a glance, as is illustrated when we go to the bookcase to select some familiar volume. It helps us to know whether fruits or vegetables are unripe, ripe or spoiled; whether food is raw, sufficiently cooked or overdone; whether objects are extremely hot or cold.

It guides us in judging many conditions of sickness and health. It aids us in determining comparative distances. A moment's contemplation brings to mind numerous ways in which color serves us. There is scarcely a phase of existence not affected by color in some way.

Color becomes so much a part of us, despite our customary lack of conscious appreciation of it, that should we suddenly become unable to distinguish one hue from another, we would immediately realize our deep loss. The world would offer, instead of its accustomed harmony of many colors, much the neutrality of a black-and-white photograph. It would be a gray world indeed, both figuratively and literally.

Just as color interests and pleases us today, so it apparently affected primitive man. At least, we have ample evidence of the constant use of pigments from the earliest known times. Not only was the humble home, together with its implements and utensils, embellished in gorgeous hues, but its inhabitants employed colors lavishly both on their clothing and their bodies.

The male of the species, contrary to our present custom, went forth, especially when in battle array, dressed, accoutered and adorned in the most vivid colorings imaginable, doubtless to his own great delight, and supposedly to the consternation of his enemy.

If from this early starting point we should trace the gradual progress of mankind, we would find this same love of color manifesting itself over and over again. At the time of the ancient Egyptians, Persians and Assyrians, for instance, color was still used in abundance, yet with an increased restraint and appreciation consistent with the development of civilization as a whole.

From those days of thousands of years ago to the present, color has continued to occupy the attention of man, who has ever sought to wrest its secrets from nature. With the advance of science, the speculation of the ancient has given way to the intelligent research and experimentation of the trained investigator.

Especially during the last century or two have physicists, physiologists, and more recently, psychologists studied the problems of light and color and the processes of vision. Nor have the chemists been idle in the meanwhile, for under them a sound advance has been made in the discovery and perfection of pigments. The colorists in various fields have done their part by putting these pigments to all sorts of uses, seeking at the same time laws regarding their harmonious application.

Our world indeed would be poorer if we did not have the outstanding qualities given to it by color.
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