Site:Brooklyn Gallery presents Color Theory, an online exhibition curated by Kaegan Sparks.
“Every act of seeing leads to consideration, consideration to reflection, reflection to combination, and thus it may be said that in every attentive look on nature we already theorise.” –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours (1810)
“A dread of, nay, a decided aversion for all theoretical views respecting colour…has been hitherto found to exist among painters,” wrote Johann Wolfgang von Goethe near the end of his 1810 treatise Theory of Colours. However, he conceded, this was “a prejudice for which, after all, they were not to be blamed.” Goethe’s study of color issued from a personal crusade to “liberate the phenomena once and for all from the gloom of the empirico-mechanico-dogmatic torture chamber”—that is, the prevailing notion in his age (and ours) that color is an aspect of light which can be rationally explained by the laws of physics. A century earlier, Isaac Newton’s optical experiments with prisms had yielded the ROYGBIV spectrum, a rubric with which he assigned each visible shade to a measurable wavelength of light. In “razing this Bastille”—Goethe’s dramatic metaphor for his attempt to dismantle the Newtonian paradigm—the German Romantic attempted to substitute Enlightenment science with a more subjective phenomenology. Maintaining that the human mind and spirit correspond intrinsically with the natural world, Goethe argued that knowledge of color could not be severed from our experience of it, including both sensory perception and emotional effect. Goethe’s color theory, which he hoped would be applied by practitioners from chemists to dyers to artists, inflected subsequent nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century art ranging from J.M.W. Turner’s diaphanous seascapes to Hilma af Klimt’s mystical altarpieces. – Kaegan Sparks