« PreviousContinue »
plants will live and bear leaves when fed by only the red and yellow rays, but they have never been known to blossom or flower without the presence of the blue ray. If this is true of plant-life, that it depends for its perfection on a full proportion of color, as found in the sunlight, how much more must it be true of human nature.
The ancients did not use the pigments, red, yellow, and blue, as we do, but nearly always modified them with black, which, while it dimmed their intensity, rendering them more pleasing to the eye, was also an expression of their thinking. Back of their education lay the phenomena of light and darkness, day and night, as symbols of good and evil. Color was to them a diminished quantity or energy of light, and the primary colors were black and white, not red, blue, and yellow.
The Egyptian religion was gloomy in the extreme, and subject to all the restrictions of accident or fate, because of the uncertainty which hung over their ideas of a future. This feeling increased more and more as the Christian era approached, until we find it most strongly reflected in the painting of Greek vases.
It must be remembered that art, literature, architecture and workmanship of all kinds, equally with modes of worship, are expressions of the indwelling soul, and it is not possible to separate the one from the other if we would arrive at the whole truth of history.
Modern science has admitted of three theories concerning color: the Goethe theory, the Newtonian, and the wave theory. Goethe's theory is the most poetic and ideal. It mirrors closest the thought of the ancients. Shelley expresses it in the well-known words, "Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, stains the white radiance of eternity." When the thought of to-day shall have reached Mr. Ruskin's standpoint, "that true science is true art," we will understand the Goethe theory better, for it relates to the spirit and not to the letter.
In application and practice the wave theory is the one usually accepted. However, all the theories agree that light and color are mutually related and dependent; that the various colors of the rainbow are found in the spectrum, therefore the spectrum must be made the basis for all investigation and study.
But true color, being spiritual in essence, exists in nature only. To translate it into material form, a paint, pigment or dye must be used. Thus we get our worsteds, colored fabrics and papers.
Now the study of color has ever been brought to the people in two ways. First, by association with, and careful observance of nature. Second, by the use of conventional color to express thought, whether religious, technical, or artistic.
Healthy natures have ever held themselves open to both these avenues of growth; for color is more than a fact-it is an influence, and as such transcends all literalism. The true color-critic needs also to be a practitioner, and the practitioner must read nature with heavenly as well as with earthly vision. Thought-expression through conventional color recognizes two departments.
The representation of graded colors as it is perceived in nature by the cultivated eye, taking account of distance, light and shade, and atmosphere. Here the color is never independent of its surroundings. It becomes transposed by juxtaposition with other colors, is irradiated by a flow of light, or modified and changed by the presence of shade. This interdependence must be recognized by the colorist, and it is the quick perception of such change in effects which reveals the artist.
Again, the use of flat color as applied to decorative purposes for the adornment and enrichment of surfaces in the useful arts. Used in either way, color always expresses the hunger of man's heart after satisfaction. It is something above and beyond the first apparent necessity; yet so deep has this passion nestled in human unconsciousness that the savage will tattoo his skin before he clothes himself.
Pure color as it exists in nature, and conventional color as practiced in both the fine and useful arts, have certain principles in common; the use of the latter being based and determined by the existence of the former.
From the study of pure color in nature is derived the theory of color. Sometimes it agrees and sometimes it disagrees with the practice of conventional color. But in no instance can the teaching of conventional color ignore the laws of nature with safety. We will look for a minute at some of these principles as found in nature. All color proceeds from white light. Here it dwells in perfect harmony or unity. In order to go out, bless and redeem the earth, it breaks itself up into rays, but each of these is forever seeking a return to harmony and unity. The mind of man is seeking the same end-a return to harmony or unity: his physical eye is merely an organ through which he expresses this desire of his being.
A color composition is pleasing to the mind, just in proportion as it embodies the several rays in the relations in which they exist in white light. In the language of Owen Jones, "No composition can ever be perfect in which any one of the three primary colors is wanting, either in their natural state or in combination." This is the technical statement; of which the educational translation would be, that in proportion as the individual making the composition is intelligent and responsive to the highest in him, will be the subdued subtility of his combinations.
The three primary colors of white light, are they the same with the primary pigments, and do they exist in equal or unequal quantity in light?
Science gives varying reports as to what are the primary spectrum colors: now it is red, blue, and yellow; again it is red, violet, and green. But the pigment basis never varies, and the theoretical basis does not affect it. For all practical purposes the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow, because these are pigments which cannot be obtained by the mixture of others. Science also tells us that the primary colors do not exist in equal quantity in white light, and that it is a necessity for practice to follow this rule, or a shock of inharmony will be experienced.
White light is composed of three parts yellow, five red, and eight parts
blue; or, if you please, five red, eleven green, and thirteen violet. From this we learn, however simple the work may be that the child is doing, he must not use red and yellow in as large quantities as blue or green.
Now scientific truth is not arbitrary or dogmatic, but guiding and directing. It does not order one to measure out just so much yellow, so much red, and so much green, for it recognizes the limitation of pigment, and moreover, the spiritual fact that one's ability to perceive and recognize colors depends on the enlightenment from within.
Homer in his description continually mixes up blue with purple, and red and purple. The Welsh have the same word to this day for blue and green. The Bushman recognizes but three colors. Nature, with all her forms, colors, and movements, is to him a blind riddle. God is love, is not in his vocabulary any more than God is beauty is in ours. For love, unmixed with fear, pure and undefiled, dwelling in the human heart, is the secret of its ability to perceive and appreciate beautiful, harmonious subtile colors.
Hear the confirmation of history: In the Greek period was form perfected, the high-water mark of the world's intellectual development was reached then and there. Plato and Aristotle still reign "masters of those who know."
In Greek form, Greek intellect reached the culmination of artistic expression. In subtile proportions, in rhythmic motions, in exquisite flow of line, in mysterious curves, in subordinating variety to unity, in freeing the external, so that the body became a living temple, the Greek delighted; but the spirit he could not free.
Christ came: good-will from God to man was made a living fact, the lifepulses of the world quickened and throbbed with the influx of the Divine love.
Gothic cathedrals, glorious in brilliant coloring, the legacy of Byzantine, Basilicas, and Saracenic mosques, replaced the marble temples of Greece.
In literature, Dante breathed so truly the message, that he groups all the virtue and all the color of the "Inferno" together in one place, even where the noble heathen dwell. Very interesting is it to note how pagan literature takes us only as far in the study of color as does the "Purgatory." Dante alone may scale the heights of Paradise, and bathe in the golden sunlight of the Divine presence. To him, and him alone was it given, to cancel the mystery of white light.
Then flourish the world's great colorists, and Bellini, and Tintoretto, and Velasquez, and Correggio, painted such pictures as caused the noblest of the nineteenth-century critics to exclaim: "All great art is praise."
It needed love to wake the understanding of men to an appreciation of color, and it is because love is once more knocking at our doors in a secondChrist epoch, that the thirst and hunger for it are coming into our school-work. The time has come when education must cease to be a pain. Too long have we been mesmerized into the delusion that the way to knowledge is by grinding; that the way to growth is along the lines of intellectual acumen, and socalled mental discipline. We are waking to find grinding gives dust only;
that growth comes not through drudgery and toil, but through the uncon scious breathing-in of the Divine; through the yielding of ourselves to all holy and ennobling influences; through inspiration.
But Nature uses her colors in an orderly fashion. Children should be led to observe where and how this is done, finding the primaries, reds, yellows, and blues, the strong colors in the heavens overhead; the secondaries, green, purple, and orange, midway in the grass and foliage of trees, in fruits and flowers; while the tertiaries, the most subdued of the colors, are found under foot and in the earth.
The Moors, who were the first to excel in decorative coloring, based all their use of the primaries on observance of this law, and since their time it has become traditional.
Froebel divined how easily a child's sensibility to color might be blunted, and therefore he pleads in his Education of Man, for the use of pure, distinct colors; that they should be studied as nearly as possible in their actual natural relations, in their differences and resemblances; and that the forms used should be simple and definite. From this I gather he would have us study the several colors, both primaries and secondaries, in their self-tones first, in the relations which each color sustains to itself, until a scale of the color becomes associated in the mind. And this is indeed the only way to avoid confusion and perplexity. For a color studied in its relationship to itself presents fewer difficulties; it is modified only as to tone, the light color appearing lighter, and the dark, darker. But a color studied in relation to a different color involves a double modification: first, as to tone, and second, as to hue, each color becoming tinged by the complementary of the other. easily see what a disturbance this last method would produce on child-vision. Behind all color is the spectrum. Should we not, then, begin with it as a whole, and proceed to its parts, the several colors? Let us then familiarize the child with the spectrum as a whole, catch the light in a glass prism, and let him see it broken up, then give him such an arrangement of papers, wors teds, or pigments, that he may make one himself.
My experience is, one cannot be too familiar with the order, gradation, and brilliancy of the tones of the spectrum, and that every grade should be required to practice making it once a year.
In the study of contrasting colors, it must always be remembered, the combining of a primary or a secondary with its complementary will not produce harmony. Everywhere quantity, intensity of color and proportion of area, must be considered, the strongest colors being always used in the smallest quantity. Thus blue and orange are complementary to each other, and in white light do form a harmony; but it by no means follows they will do so in any kind of colored paper or worsteds the teacher may choose to use. In proportion as the paper or worsted approaches technically to truth of color. they will do so, and no more. In any composition the color must be so used as not to distract the eye from the unity of the composition, for the office of
color is to enhance an organic whole, not to separate, or divide, or cut up into parts.
In nature, wherever the form changes, the color changes also, as in the plant, where flower, leaf, bud, and stalk are all different; but this is only to individualize each part. The most gorgeous color is always reserved for the flower, where it is used in graded tones, stamens, pistils and petals often making a harmony within a harmony; while every detail, as well as the whole plant, is enveloped by the blue-gray of the atmosphere, and this blue-gray atmosphere is always a mediator.
Mr. Ruskin says: "No color harmony is of a high order unless it involves indescribable tints. Even among simple hues, the most valuable are those which cannot be defined. The most precious purple will look brown beside pure purple, and purple beside pure brown, and the most precious green will be called blue if seen by pure green, and green if seen beside pure blue. The finer the eye for color, the less it will require to gratify it intensely; but that little must be supremely good and pure, as the finest notes of a great singer which are so near to silence. And a great colorist will make even the absence of color lovely as the fading of the perfect voice makes silence sacred. Color that is unmysterious is wholly barbarous."
Harmony of color depends not only on the purity of the pigment, but also upon the texture and finish of material used. Thus, glazed papers have a harsh, not to say a hurtful effect upon the eye, and preference should be given to softer, dulled papers. From this, one can see the study of color is altogether different in its nature from the study of form.
Color is the one thing in all the world that defies the training of the schools, and the judgment of a cold, piercing intellect. It reveals itself only where there is warmth of feeling, and the responsive simplicity of a little child. It will not be argued over, or reasoned about. It appeals directly to the affections, and its mission at this time is to teach us to know truly what other men have felt during their span of life, and to open our hearts to the messages of the skies and the earth. Shall we receive it?
It will be understood that throughout this paper I have reference to the positive right teaching of color, which, while recognizing sensation as the legitimate gate by which to approach the individual, yet knows if growth is to be attained sensation must be transcended, and subordinated to understanding. Color greeting the child on the plain physical at first appeals to sensation only; then, through the gateway of the intellect and the knowledge of science, it leads him into the mansion of the intuitional and the spiritual, where he knows only harmony, thinks only harmony, and expresses only harmony, for he has attained to harmony with himself.
Thanks to the Prang Educational Company, and the efforts of Mr. Bradley of Springfield, Mass., better ideas are being formulated concerning color and form, and the conditions made more favorable for their proper study and teaching.