I recently came across an intriguing series of posts on the Empirical Zeal blog, about how language affects our idea of color - the author called it The Crayola-fication of the World. Perhaps artists are more attuned to the subtleties of color than laymen, but how many of us do not fully account for the influence language has on our color choices?
Research indicates that cultures around the world do differentiate the major color categories along similar lines, with some diversity arising in curious ways - the differences between blues and greens for some cultures, yellows and greens in others. Our perception of what redness means is similar from culture to culture, but when it comes to naming that same redness and categorizing it, our use of language can get in the way - but perhaps not exactly the way you think.
Here are some of the intriguing questions that were raised, and answered in the color discussion:
- To what degree does left brain/right brain cooperation have in our ability to distinguish between color subtleties?
- If we distract the language processing part of the brain (left brain), why is it we have more difficulty differentiating between colors, but if we distract the visual processing brain (right brain) there is no difficulty?
And my own follow up question:
- How is language (our ability to name colors) working here - and does this offer a clue as to why many artists prefer to work in isolation - where their language-processing right brain is not distracted through conversations with others?
At some point, the questions cease to be about how to put paint on the surface and shift to how to understand our perceptions, where the artist is no longer painting greenish trees but shapes filled with light and vegetation and warmth and coolness. In order to see these subtle differences, it may be valuable to understand the interaction between color perception and language beyond a crayola world where trees are green and the sky is blue, and there is no red beyond the red, red rose.
The crayola-fication of the world: How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains (part II)
Artists can color the sky red because they know it's blue. Those of us who aren't artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we're stupid. ~Jules Feiffer, from The Quote Garden.