Archive for the ‘Theory of Colours’ Category

Goethe Month: Sometimes it is good to be wrong featuring guest artist Landy Wardoll

July 30, 2010

Goethe Month coda and art by that One Guy.

The website from which I took this picture says:

This screenprint is based on a painting by the German artist Johann Tischbein. It depicts Johann von Goethe, a key figure in German literature as a traveller in a landscape of ruins. Warhol has cropped the original composition so as to create a head and shoulders portrait of the writer. Goethe had contemplated painting as an early career choice and published a book on the theory of colour. As the first person to study the psychological affects of colour, it is interesting to think what he would make of Warhol’s representation of him as a Pop icon.

Near the end of his life, Goethe wrote to his friend and editor Eckermann,

My dear friend, I will tell you something that may be of use to you, when you are going over my works.

They will never become popular; there will be single individuals who will understand what I want to say, but there can be no question [that the work will be unpopular].

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, letter to Johann Peter Eckermann.)

Sometimes it is good to be wrong. Farewell, Goethe Month.

Who’s next?

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 7 — *fin*

July 22, 2010

The afore-promised celebrity criticisms of the Farbenlehre.

“Wake up, Dr. S — there is science afoot!” via.

Goethe delivered in full measure what was promised by the title of his excellent work: data toward a theory of colour. They are important, complete, and significant data, rich material for a future theory of colour. He has not, however, undertaken to furnish the theory itself … but really postulates it as a phenomenon, and merely tells us how it originates, not what it is.

(Arthur Schopenhauer, Über das Sehn und die Farben/On Vision and Colors. 1810.)

Which fact we have already seen well-defended by my b’loved Werner H. so I will not dwell on Schopenhauer’s criticism other than to say I generally like the things he has to say on just about any subject and agree with him here as usual.

“One of the most important works.”

(Wassily Kandinsky, qtd. in Rowley, Allison. “Kandinskii’s theory of colour and Olesha’s Envy.” Canadian Slavonic Papers. September-December 2002.)

A Russian artist and one of the famous Blue Four, Kandinsky is the father of abstract painting and was an instrumental theorist and professor for the Bauhaus before the National Socialists destroyed a bunch of their compositions. Kandinsky taught the most basic design courses at Bauhaus and used Goethe’s color wheel in his avant-garde art theory lectures. Also, note the hotness. Girls Like a Boy Who Reads [scathing criticisms of Nazis and protests against the public destruction of his art which eventually lead him to flee to Paris ahead of persecution by said Nazis]!

“Farbenkreis zur Symbolisierung des Menschlichen Geistes und Seelenlebens,” Goethe, 1809. This is the aforementioned color wheel that art rebel hottie Wassily Kandinsky would use in lecture.

Can you lend me the Theory of Colours for a few weeks? It is an important work. His last things are insipid.

(Ludwig van Beethoven, Conversation-book, 1820.)

Love how he goes from wanting to read Goethe because he considers his work important to “His last things are insipid.” Man, Beethoven had such an attitude.

He was such a crazy deaf grump by the time he died. Amazing and bittersweetly comical that a creative genius was also so churlish and curmudgeonly — like he genuinely made other peoples’ lives hard despite bringing beautiful music in to our world. The generosity of his composition and fame in the wide world is so jarring in juxtaposition with his infliction of discomfort and temper on the people close to him. The complexity intrigues me and also amuses me somehow but makes me sad too. That reminds me: I need to plan an Immortal Beloved Movie Moment.

Shit, now I’ve given over most of the last entry on Theory of Colours to talking about Beethoven. What can you do. Thoughts happen.


Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 6 — We are dazzled

July 21, 2010

If we keep the eyes open in a totally dark place, a certain sense of privation is experienced. The organ is abandoned to itself; it retires into itself.

If we pass from a totally dark place to one illumined by the sun, we are dazzled.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840. pp. 3-5.)

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 5 — Goethe vs. Newton and a whole lot of Heisenberg with bonus Fermi hotness

July 20, 2010

A famously uncertain doc.

Goethe’s colour theory has in many ways borne fruit in art, physiology, and aesthetics. But victory — and hence, influence on the research of the following century — has been Newton’s. (60)

(Werner Heisenberg, “Bermerkungen zur Theorie der Vielfacherzeugung von Mesonen.” Die Naturwissen-schaften Vol. 39. 1952)

Heisenberg was deeply interested in Goethe’s Farbenlehre. He delivered a lecture in 1941 on the differences between Goethe’s and Newton’s color theories, in which he essentially argued that both were right but that what Goethe had done was outline very specifically and accurately the phenomenon of human perception of the spectrum, while Newton’s thrust was more toward definition and demonstration of the spectrum’s essence and proveable existence itself.

Fermi, Heisenberg, and Pauli. Fermi was such a tragic hottie. Do you think he killed himself? I kind of do.

The views Heisenberg espoused of Goethe’s experiments being valid insomuchas they are observably repeatable and scientifically sound have fortunately come to be the modern perception of Goethe’s color theory research — that Goethe was accurately exploring the definition of a physiological, human sense of color and drew credible conclusions about colors and the human eye.

Prior to a re-surge of interest in Goethe’s color theory that began in the 1930’s and was legitimized largely by Heisenberg’s lecture and writing, Goethe’s work had been suffering for most of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century under something of a cloud of suspicion due to his theory’s eclipse by Newton’s with popular physicists. In his book Goethe Contra Newton, British physicist and scholar Dr. Dennis Sepper beautifully describes the shadow of early, dichotomous criticism which hung over Goethe’s Farbenlehre and was part of a larger debate in science:

A characterological or typological trait of the poet prevents him from grasping the real essence of science. On the other hand, the scientist must, to some extent, be open to the demands of spirit, and science is fundamentally part of a grand ethical quest. Goethe’s apparent inability to grasp the essence of Newton’s science reveals the chief differences between those who cultivate imagination and human truth and those who pursue objective truth in nature.

(Sepper, Dennis L. “The Critical Dilemma.” Goethe Contra Newton: Polemics and the Project for a New Science of Color. Cambridge: University Press, 1988. 6.)


I feel like these different thrusts of firstly poetry and science, and secondly the science of physiology and psychology, faith and beauty-based, rather than a perception of a more “hard” science are completely exemplified in the above shot.

A flock of pigeons takes off from the steps of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul.

Here is hard, natural science, pure biology, that is also poetry — a bird in flight — and all against the backdrop of human faith as symbolized by the cathedral, which is furthermore situated in one of the oldest cities in modern existence, through which millions of human feet have passed. That is one fucking deep picture of pigeons. Am I right?

That was fun. I think I’ll suss out and post up some other famous critical responses a different day.

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 4 — Reciprocal evocation, or, Goethe’s color wheel

July 19, 2010

The colours are here arranged in a general way according to the natural order, and the arrangement will be found to be directly applicable in the present case, for the colours diametrically opposed to each other in this diagram are those which reciprocally evoke each other in the eye.

Thus, yellow demands purple; orange, blue; red, green; and vice versa: thus again all intermediate gradations reciprocally evoke each other; the simpler colour demanding the compound, and vice versa.

The cases here under consideration occur oftener than we are aware in ordinary life; indeed, an attentive observer sees these appearances everywhere.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840. pp. 20-22)

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 3 — A rainbow ain’t shit if it ain’t got red in it

July 18, 2010

Favoritest color in the world. And may I add that this journal is now going to be the first blog entry to get a Pulitzer prize due to my stunning combination of “rainbow” and “shit” in the same sentence?*

While therefore we may assert that the chromatic scale produces an agreeable impression by its ingredient hues, we may here remark that those have been mistaken who have hitherto adduced the rainbow as an example of the entire scale …

… for the chief colour, pure red, is deficient in it, and cannot be produced, since in this phenomenon, as well as in the ordinary prismatic series, the yellow-red and blue-red cannot attain to a union.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840. p. 320.)

Take that, Newtonian spectral reasoning. Goethe was all like, “I’m no physicist but guess what? Suck iiiiiit.” Just kidding. They were both kind of right and kind of wrong. And I admit Goethe was slightly wronger.

*Actually once I knew this beagle that ate a half a box of crayons and later on his shit had faint waxy rainbows in its sheen, and I’ve frequently reported this to friends in pretty much exactly that wording (often predicated on only the most tenuous of topical connections — what can I say? It’s a good story and I’m not exactly a class act). So I suppose in truth now I have twice used rainbow and shit in a sentence, it’s just that this is the first time I’ve ever written it down.

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 2 — On the catalytic moment

July 17, 2010

But I was astonished, as I looked at a white wall through the prism, how it stayed white! That only there where it came upon some darkened area, it showed more or less some colour, then at last, around the window sill all the colours shone, in the light grey sky outside there was no colour to be seen.

“L’arcobaleno” by anglerfishies.

It didn’t take long before I knew here was something significant about colour to be brought forth, and I spoke as through on instinct out loud, that the Newtonian teachings were false.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840.)

Fun bonus picture: I am not a big one for .gifs but obey this one and enjoy the result.

Goethe Month: Theory of Colours, Day 1 — Give to Nature praise and honor

July 16, 2010

Should your glance on mornings lovely

Lift to drink the heaven’s blue
Or when sun, veiled by sirocco,
Royal red sinks out of view —

Give to Nature praise and honor.
Blithe of heart and sound of eye,
Knowing for the world of colour
Where its broad foundations lie.

(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Zur Farbenlehre/Theory of Colours, 1810 transl. Charles Eastlake. John Murray Publishing: 1840.)