AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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COLOR VISION AND ART

 

What are colors, really? If we see colors differently than bees do, does that mean that colors aren’t real? Should we take into account the fact that some painters are color blind?

Issues like this have occupied painters since at least the 20th century. Josef Albers wrote extensively about color theory and his paintings reflect that. Neil Harbisson, a British artist with a severe form of color blindness (achromatopsia, i.e., grayscale vision), thinks that being colorblind has made his art better, and now has implants that (debatably) allow him to hear color. And other stories like this abound. It’s even rumored that Van Gogh was color blind, though the Van Gogh museum disputes that.

A recent book, A Naive Realist Theory of Colour by Keith Allen, defends the existence of colors despite all of the worries we might have. In a blog post over at Oxford University Press, Allen writes:

One of the reasons why colours are philosophically interesting is that they provide an illustration of general problems that arise in thinking about the “manifest image” of the world, or the world as it appears to us as conscious subjects. It is not just colours that are under threat. Similar problems arise for aesthetic properties like beauty….

Those interested in the nitty gritty philosophy of color theory should check it out.

Image credit: Studies for Homage to the Square by Josef Albers, by Selena N.B.H. via Flickr