Professor Cynthia Freeland

Professor Cynthia Freeland

University of Houston

Color Perception and Color Across Media

San Francisco Workshop, Sunday April 3rd, all day session

Philosophers informed by recent advances in the psychology of perception have helped advance debates about the “reality” of color and about the role of color in representational painting. Recent books and articles by Hyman, Lopes, Newall, and Kulvicki discuss how colors in paintings represent surface colors of depicted scenes. There is debate whether some sort of resemblance or color surrogacy is at work here. I argue that we should devote attention to other artistic uses of color. Artists are often at the forefront of experiments with color (as with Monet’s use of the new indigo pigment to depict colored shadows). Our hypotheses must encompass more radical artistic experiments such as Turner’s depictions of atmosphere and movement or Rothko’s investigations of the emotional dimensions of colors, particular when interrelated in various ways. After looking at these examples, I will also discuss some artistic uses of color in film where it can, of course, play an expressive role but can also function to indicate altered kinds of reality or de-substantiated space, as in scenes of nostalgia, hallucinations, nightmares and dreams, or memories. My examples here are from films by Sirk, Argento, and Cronenberg. Finally I will discuss the very different nature and role played by color in sensory experimentation in the light installations of James Turrell. My general claim is that color in art plays a role that goes well beyond spatial representation. It is often involved both in the evocation of affect and in the representation of non-visual qualities such as texture, solidity, temperature, and even taste. This is not surprising since color perception itself is obviously linked to these other sorts of conscious experiences.