Saturday, January 12, 2013

Why is the sky blue and other questions about color

Matisse: Interior with a Bowl and Red Fish
 Matisse explored the expressiveness of color through his career

Why is the sky blue? How much is color a physical thing in the physical world, and to what extent is it created in our minds?  Are there more colors out there, but we can’t see them?

These are usually questions asked in rooms filled with pot smoke in a freshman dorm. However, we at Larryville Artists have the answers to some of these questions. Thanks to recent science discoveries, we know more about color now than ever before.

Is the sky blue?
The sky is blue, but more blue to some.  Artists have been trained to see colors that other people may not see.  For instance, a sky looks straight up blue to most people may appear blue but with shades of pink in it to artists and other people who are trained and work with color.  

In ancient times, the perception of blue was probably different than ours.  Although there are many examples of descriptive colors in Homer's Odyssey, blue is never mentioned. 

Additionally, an interesting phenomenon occurs when an artist uses a limited color palette: the eye tends to compensate by seeing any gray or neutral color as the color missing from the color wheel.  

Are there more colors out there, but we do not see them?
Although many animals have two cone receptors ( humans have three), some animals have a fourth cone receptor and can see colors that humans do not see. For instance, butterflies and birds can see extra blues and greens. The mantis crab shrimp has an amazing 16 different types of cone receptors.  Thanks to science, DNA testing is finding that a small percentage of woman have an extra cone receptor, meaning they can see hundreds more colors than the rest of us.  Experimentation in monkeys have found success in surgically adding a cone to help them see the color red.

For more information on mind blowing thoughts on color, hear the Radio Lab Podcast on color here:

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