Reboot.

I prefer to see with closed eyes.

Josef Albers

What I know you already know is that all of those turquoise squares are identical in color (#32bcc9 is the hex color code, for anyone who wants to give it a real test).

They’re identical, but they appear different.

They appear different because their surrounding colors subtract their own hue or value from the turquoise. Put a square of color on a dark background, and it appears lighter. Put that same square of color on a lighter background, and the square appears darker, even though it is the same as before.

If this idea seems obvious to you, then perhaps you’ll give a nod of thanks to Josef Albers, arguably one of the most influential (some art historians have suggested *the* most influential) art teacher(s) of 20th century America.

Here’s more about that:


Whether you have a degree in art history (or “cocktail party conversation,” as some fathers might have put it, back in the more-sexist-than-now 1980s) or you took a single survey course to fulfill a required elective, you’re likely familiar with the work of Josef Albers, even if you don’t recognize the artist’s name.

Born into a German family of craftsmen, Albers was an elementary school teacher who worked his way into teaching art. At a vocational school in Essen, Germany, he received a public commission to design stained glass windows for a church. In 1920 he enrolled as a student at Bauhaus where he became a teacher (of stained glass art) in 1922 and full professor in 1925. Colleagues there included Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky.

Fleeing Germany after the Nazis closed the Bauhaus, where he had taught for more than a decade, Albers, and his artist wife Anni, who was Jewish, came to the then-newly established Black Mountain College, in North Carolina, in 1933.

Black Mountain was a visionary, entrepreneurial experiment that emerged, in 1933, from contemporary national and international crises, including both the Great Depression and European fascism. Founded on the philosophical belief that the arts are essential to learning, Black Mountain drew leading, visionary minds of the time to both its teaching and its student ranks.

Albers, who designed furniture, wrote poetry, made architectural reliefs, and forged stained glass, was a perfect fit for the emerging vision of Black Mountain. Among his students there? Robert Rauchenberg and Cy Twombley.

But it was during Albers’s next chapter, as chairman of the Design Department at Yale University, that he made, as it were, his indelible mark.

Appointed to the position in 1947, Albers began, two years later, a series of paintings called “Homage to the Square” (more than 2,000 of them), in which he explored color theory and the influence of one color on another, adjacent one.

He was in his 60s.

The easiest way to understand the idea behind his work, I think, is with an example that includes yellow, blue and green:

Surrounded by a field of yellow, the green appears to lose its yellow and take on a bluer hue. Surrounded by a field of blue, the green appears to lose its blue hue and appear more yellow.

Simple, right?

What remains important about this idea, perhaps, is that is begs the questions:

What things – realistic or abstract, visual or emotional – appear different based on their surroundings? How is your perception of anything – a person, an idea, a color, a perspective – affected by context?

And, just so we’re clear: Here are the same images already presented, only with connecting streams to prove that the colors in the small squares are, in fact, the same.

Curious, how human eyes see the world, isn’t it?

If all of that seems familiar, to you long-time readers, that’s because I wrote about it, several years ago, with the title “How Art Might Save the World.” I still believe that’s true. I do. I will.

Bears repeating: #ArtHarder

That’s enough for today, I think.

Until tomorrow, be well.


About this series:

For the month of August, as a birthday present to myself, I’m doing another daily writing challenge. This year, not unlike last year, it’s all about RE-committing to writing. So far that includes: Reengage, Reconsider, Reassess, Review, Redefine, Relish, Relay, Reinvent, Reevaluate, Reroute, Restore, Rediscover, Reflect and Remember.

5 thoughts on “Reboot.

  1. The Chinese printers at huge commercial presses in Hong Kong used to call me the color professor. I see color as well as anyone. So, in the green over yellow and green over blue boxes Albers is exactly backwards. Yellow is a brightener so it warms everything around it.

    Think about re-copy editing the post. You’ll see why.

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