Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Brief History of Color
Art Resource

Marie-Therese Wisniowski

This is the fourth blog in the "Art Resource" series, specifically aimed to construct an appropriate knowledge base in order to develop an artistic voice in ArtCloth. Other posts in this series are:
Glossary of Terms
Units Used In Dyeing And Printing Of Fabrics
Occupational, Health & Safety
The Nature Of Color
Psychology Of Color
Color Schemes
The Naming of Colors
Munsell Color Classification System
Methuen Color Index And Classification System
The CIE System
Pantone - A Modern Color Classification System
Optical Properties of Fiber Materials
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part I
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part II
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part III
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part IV
General Properties of Fiber Polymers and Fibers - Part V
Protein Fibers - Wool
Protein Fibers - Speciality Hair Fibers
Protein Fibers - Silk
Protein Fibers - Wool versus Silk
Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Cotton
Cellulosic Fibers (Natural) - Linen
Other Natural Cellulosic Fibers
General Overview of Man-Made Fibers
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Viscose
Man-Made Cellulosic Fibers - Esters
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Nylon
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Polyester
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Acrylic and Modacrylic
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Olefins
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Elastomers
Man-Made Synthetic Fibers - Mineral Fibers
Man Made Fibers - Other Textile Fibers
Fiber Blends
From Fiber To Yarn: Overview - Part I
From Fiber to Yarn: Overview - Part II
Melt-Spun Fibers
Characteristics of Filament Yarn
Yarn Classification
Direct Spun Yarns
Textured Filament Yarns
Fabric Construction - Felt
Fabric Construction - Nonwoven Fabrics
A Fashion Data Base
Fiber Construction - Leather
Fabric Construction - Films
Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins
Fabric Construction – Foams and Poromeric Material
Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns
Weaving and the Loom
Similarities and Differences in Woven Fabrics
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part I)
The Three Basic Weaves - Plain Weave (Part II)
The Three Basic Weaves - Twill Weave
The Three Basic Weaves - Satin Weave
Figured Weaves - Leno Weave
Figured Weaves – Piqué Weave
Figured Fabrics
Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements

The Glossary of Terms, Timelines of Fabrics, Dyes and Other Stuff, A Fashion Data Base, Glossary of Colors, Dyes, Inks, Pigments and Resins, Glossary of Fabrics, Fibers, Finishes, Garments and Yarns and Glossary of Art, Artists, Art Motifs and Art Movements have been updated in order to better inform your art practice.

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The Art Resource series will be the first post in each calendar month. Remember - these Art Resource posts span information that will be useful for a home hobbyist to that required by a final year University Fine-Art student and so undoubtedly, some parts of any Art Resource post may appear far too technical for your needs (skip over those mind boggling parts) and in other parts, it may be too simplistic with respect to your level of knowledge (ditto the skip). The trade-off between these two extremes will mean that Art Resource posts will hopefully be useful in parts to most, but unfortunately may not be satisfying to all!

Earliest Times of Color
The ancient Egyptians were using color for cures and ailments. They worshipped the sun, knowing that without light there could be no life. They looked at nature and copied it in many aspects of their lives. The floors of their temples were often green - as was the grass that grew alongside their river - the Nile. Blue was a very important color to the Egyptians since it was the color of the sky. They built temples for healing and used gems (crystals) through which the sunlight shone. They would have different rooms painted in different colors.

They also used pigments to color their textiles. For example, madder was made from the root of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorium). It was used as a textile dye in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, being the most permanent of the maroon or ruby colors of natural dyestuff origin. It is said that it was introduced into Italy by the Crusaders and it was then cultivated in Europe from the third century on.

There were lists on papyrus - dating back to 1550 B.C. - of color "cures". 
Their deep knowledge and understanding of the healing powers of the color rays was nearly lost when later on in history, the Greeks considered color as a science. Hippocrates - amongst others - abandoned the metaphysical side of color, concentrating only on its scientific aspect.

The Greeks also discovered pigments for their textiles. For example, they prepared the Grecian purple pigment from the shellfish Murex trunculis and Murex brandaris.

In the 4th century B.C. Aristotle undertook some of the early studies and proposed some of the earliest theories on light. He discovered that by mixing two colors, a third is produced. He demonstrated that a blue and yellow piece of glass - when brought together - produced green. He also discovered that light traveled in waves.

He considered blue and yellow to be the true primary colors, relating as they do to life's polarities: sun and moon, male and female, stimulus and sedation, expansion and contraction, out and in. Furthermore, he associated colors with the four elements: fire, water, earth and air. Artists universally adopted his principles and applied them for over two thousand years, until Newton's discoveries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries replaced them in terms of general color theory.

A pioneer in the field of color, Isaac Newton in 1672 published his first, and most controversial paper on color. Forty years later, he published his work on optics named, “Opticks”. He also formulated a corpuscle theory of light.

Newton passed a beam of sunlight through a prism. When the light emerged from the prism it was not white but was made up of seven different colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. The spreading into color rays he called dispersion and he called the different colored rays - the spectrum.

He learnt that when the seven different light rays were passed again through an inverted prism, the rays turned back into white light. If only one ray was passed through the prism it would come out the same color as it went in. Newton concluded that white light was made up of seven different colored rays and that the prism - used in his experiment - did not intervene by adding additional colors to the light that exited from the prism.

White light is passed through a prism, producing a spectrum. The light of the spectrum is blocked by a screen with a narrow slit, allowing only one color, say yellow, of the spectrum to pass through. This one color of light (yellow) passes through a second prism. If the prism simply added additional colors to light, this color should again produce a spectrum. But the light that emerged from the second prism was the same one color that entered it. This proved that a prism did not add colors to light.

A century after Newton, Johann Wolfgang Goethe began studying psychological effects of colors. He noticed that blue gave a feeling of coolness and yellow had a warming effect. Goethe created a color wheel showing the psychological effect of each color. He divided all the colors into two groups – the colors on the plus side ranged from red through orange to yellow, whereas colors on the minus side ranged from green through violet to blue. Colors of the plus side produced excitement and cheerfulness. Colors of the minus side were associated with weakness and unsettled feelings.

The current form of color theory in terms of the color wheel was developed by Johannes Itten, a Swiss color and art theorist who taught at the School of Applied Arts in Weimar, Germany. This school was also known as the “Bauhaus”. Johannes Itten developed “color chords” and modified the color wheel.

Modern Use Of Color
We are lucky that now we are all able to choose most colors we like and can buy products of most colors freely. This was not always the case. In times gone by, the violet/purple pigments that dyed fabrics, were very expensive and therefore only available to the wealthy. For example, the Romans in high office would wear purple robes since this would indicate to Romans power, nobility and thus authority.

It is also interesting to look at the different phases in history and how these phases have been reflected in the colors generally worn at those times. During times of severity and propriety, the code of dress was very much dominated by black and grey. The Victorians mainly wore black - influenced by Queen Victoria's long period of mourning no doubt - and were in many ways quite austere. Hence, Queen Victoria's reign was hallmarked in terms of color as drab, dull or a colorless period of history.

The Victorian Era Basically Shunned The Use Of Colorful Garments.

The Puritans too, of course, dressed in black. This is not to say that black is a “bad color”. Every color has positive and negative aspects. Wearing black with another color can enhance that other color's energy. Black can also give the space sometimes needed for reflection and inner searching. It can indicate inner strength and the possibility for change. Note: Strictly speaking black is not a color but rather is the state in which all visible color is absent. For garments this means that the fiber absorbs all the white or visible light, reflecting none of it and so the garment appears black.

Before the last war it was noted that a lot of red was worn. Red, in a most positive sense, is the color for courage, strength and a pioneering spirit, all of which were much needed by the men and women who were fighting a war. However, in a most negative aspect, it is the color associated with anger, violence and brutality. As the war was coming to an end, pale blue became a popular color - an omen of the peace to come perhaps - also giving everyone the healing they must have so badly needed as well as moving towards a less emotive, more dispassionate and rational state.

Red Cross Chose Red For Its Symbol.

The Future of Color
We are now using color in very positive ways and what is more we have moved in a full circle. Paint companies have introduced new color cards with the therapeutic aspects of color in mind. Cosmetic companies too, have “color therapy” ranges included in their products. Colorful paintings and objects are employed in hospitals because of their therapeutic effects.

Color will always have great deal to offer us as it can be found all around us in nature.

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