Post 356 – by Gautam Shah
Colours have two relevancies. Some consider colour perception as biological phenomena, common to all human beings. Others perceive colour to be variable with social and a cultural facet. The social and cultural affectations of colour are observed in linguistic, ethnic, and aesthetic expressions.
Perception of a colour, even if, a biological phenomena, one needs to convey that experience, usually by specifying the Hue and Tone of the colour. This may be done by comparison to some other colour of near hue and tone, and also by naming it in distinctive way.
Nearly all languages unambiguously describe the black and white. Such unequivocal terms exist for few other colours, but not all shades. The third definitive term is for Red and fourth term could be either Green or Yellow –but not both simultaneously. The fifth definition may include either the Green or Yellow (excluded from fourth choice). The next, seventh descriptive choice is Blue. Other preferences in the choice sequence are for Brown, Purple, Pink, Orange, Gray.
Colours definitions other then these (11 or 12) common terms across different languages are more likely to be comparative idioms such as reddish, irrational value judgements like darkie or lighter, cool and warm tones. Metal and many materials have direct colour associations such as gold, silver, ash, orange (tangerine), KumKum (vermilion red), Turmeric (Haldi), etc.
The variations in colour terms across regions (cultures-languages) pose a different picture. In spite of scientific spectrum definitions, the cultural recognition and acceptance do not match.
There was virtual lack of colour terminology in Homeric Greek literature, but it does not mean the Greeks could not perceive the colours as we do it now. We can now differentiate and define nearly 2.4 Mn colours. To distinguish a specific colour one needs to reference it in terms of hue, saturation, luminosity of the light, and context (contrast, background, reference -mental recall or spectrum definition).
We perceive colours and talk about it in entirely different context. We express colours through objects, surfaces, paintings, scenes, nature, fire, water, reflections, shadows, television, films, and other media. We also perceive colours with light and shade, textures, gloss, patterns, perspective, angle of vision, silhouette, visual aberrations and make-believe effects. In each case our connection with the colour is personal, and to recollect and replicate that experience into a scientifically coded vocabulary is difficult.
“The intensity of a spectral colour, relative to the context in which it is viewed, alters its perception a low-intensity orange-yellow seems brown, and a low-intensity yellow-green looks olive-green.”
Louis Anquetin, a French artist commented in his book that old masters’ palettes were small and set with a few, almost nondescript-looking colours, out of which they made jewels on their canvases. The contemporary artists’ palettes were enormous by comparison and set with a dazzling array of colours, and they produced drab paintings.