This study of our relationship with color is a rare accomplishment, a scholarly reference work that encourages leisure reading.
The ancient Egyptian word “iwn” meant “skin,” “character,” “being,” and “nature,” and was represented by a hieroglyph of human hair.
The word acknowledges that colors are both unknowable and quotidian, each one a distinct personality among a band of constant companions that animate our histories, cultures, and everyday experiences. It’s an arcane nugget of information, to be sure, but it’s also penetrating: the word acknowledges that colors are both unknowable and quotidian, each one a distinct personality among a band of constant companions that animate our histories, cultures, and everyday experiences.
The art historian James Fox, best known for his BBC documentaries such as Age of the Image and The Art of Japanese Life, uses this kind of nubbly detail, gathered from a large hinterland, to flesh out this ambitious yet concise volume.
Each chapter is devoted to one of seven “simple colors” – a number proposed by Aristotle and backed up by Isaac Newton – and the book’s bold claim is to present nothing less than a “color history of the world.”
Many books have been written about color, with John Gage’s Colour and Culture, which has been a staple of student reading lists since its publication in 1993, being a rare gem among many dry treatises.
More recently, efforts have been made to condense the plethora of exotic stories surrounding artists’ pigments into accounts that serve both the general reader and the specialist: some have been welcome additions, while others have centered too much on the familiar tales of cows’ urine (used to create yellow pigment) and spectacularly valuable ultramarine blue.
Color theory and optics, according to Fox, are essential to color’s allure; he encourages us to think of color as a process in which the structure of a material determines which wavelengths of light are absorbed and which are reflected, and thus which color we perceive.
It’s a “dance between subjects, objects, mind, and matter” that differs not only from person to person, but also from species to species, and which leads to the tantalizing possibility that “if a tree fell in a forest and no one was there to see it, its leaves would be colourless.”
In an examination of how “Artworks, poems, treatises, rituals, and everyday idioms have.
UK news summary from Infosurhoy
Review of James Fox’s The World According to Color: An Ambitious History, from Purple to Yellow
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