In my travels, I run across many people who seem to feel unsure of their coloring choices, assuming there is only one ‘right’ way to color. This makes me sad. It also made me ponder why? Why this rigid sense of color, this sense that only one way was right, instead of exploring playful experimentation?
Watching the sunlight dapple the garden with varying shades of green made me think of Newton and his prisms and the lightbulb went on. I suddenly realized ‘Science’ was the problem – yes, Science! Give me a moment to explain…
There are two ways of experiencing color:
- Subjective – what is pleasing to us personally, influenced by culture and traditions
- Objective – observable, replicable facts about light and color
Subjective items are nearly impossible to teach since they rely on each individual’s personal feelings, however, objective items are very easy to teach because facts. Long lists of facts, very often. And the same is true of color.
Color is taught as a science: primary, complementary, tertiary, monochrome – all arranged in neat order on a color wheel. Prisms break the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum into the rainbow Roy G Biv. Rods and cones in our eyes capture reflected light and therefore color. We are taught color science from a very early age: color wheels in kindergarten, prisms for science experiments in 4th grade, rods and cones in high school anatomy. All these years teaching that there is a right way and wrong way to view color obviously impacts our confidence in our choices.
For those whose personal, subjective preferences fit into the current science, all is well. But those whose personal, subjective preferences run directly against current wisdom are getting told: “No, that is wrong.” How is a young child, holding up their wonderful creation, so proud of using colors no-one else would touch, going to react when told: “That is wrong. You should have used only red, blue and yellow.” I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Color Science has taught us to be rule-focused and rigid in our thinking. So what are we to do to gain our confidence? My suggestion? Anarchy! That’s right, throw out all the rules.
COLOR ANARCHY: Mix as many or as few colors as you want – make a muddy mess of some unnameable shade. Throw the ugliest, most reprehensible color you can make on a canvas and be proud of your creation. Really work on making ‘ugly’ color combinations and spend time looking at them. Free yourself from being ‘right’ and instead focus on what makes you feel happy. Want to color a page in nothing but an eye-piercing orange? Go for it – no-one is going to get hurt or lose a job because you used ‘weird’ colors. Try as hard as you can to break all the rules – what you discover will transform the way you color and the way you view the world.
Full Disclaimer: The science of color is important and valuable. It is also full of fascinating stuff that I will be covering in other posts. I’m not dissing science, just the way we teach this particular science to children.