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.
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.
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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Wonder what Albers would have had to say about “The Dress” (remember that color perception brouhaha?!). My daughter was sitting next to me for most of the time I was writing (more on that in a minute). She can’t see any difference in the squares. “What’s the point of this? The two squares are the same color. They don’t look any different to me.” Interesting the way we all see and perceive the world around us, especially when it comes to color.
Thanks for the copy edit nudge. Someone I know (and that someone is definitely you) has written about the challenges with the WordPress editor. I don’t love it, but my biggest complaint is that there’s a sync issue between devices. I was writing on my laptop last night until the battery died. Switched to my phone and didn’t realize I was “finishing” and posting an earlier version. Went back in a few minutes ago and tried to clean up the mess. There’s a whole paragraph or two missing toward the end (poof! gone!). Maybe in the middle of the day I’ll remember what I wrote there and then figure out how to put it back.
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He’d probably say the same thing I would. Context and technology matters. The “dress” began just like the “squares.” Even though you are viewing them digitally, they started out as a printed piece somewhere down the line. That’s why the only time you can view color without context is on press because you have a light hood in which the light is balanced to 6700k because color temperature matters on how you see the final work. 6700 is pure clean light.
And, the shapes of the dots you put on the page can change perceptions as well.
I can’t speak for Windows, but with MACs you can synch them so every screen “sees” the same thing. That’s where you do it. WordPress claims that they synch the work. If you are working on a computer you can see three little screens, a computer, a tablet and a phone. Push those and they are supposed to rescale from one screen to another. It doesn’t. It breaks up paragraphs in weird ways. It destroys layouts of pictures and designs on the page.
You might be able to find your original work in drafts.
[…] 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, Remember and Reboot. […]
[…] Redefine, Relish, Relay, Reinvent, Reevaluate, Reroute, Restore, Rediscover, Reflect, Remember, Reboot, and […]
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