Origins of Huedoku: Honoring Breakthroughs in Color Through History
Homer b. c. 8th century BCE
Homer called it a “Dark Sea”. He also called it “black”, or “wine dark”. Scholars thought perhaps the Greeks were color blind. There was no color name that made distinct blue vs. red. It wasn’t Homer’s fault. The distinctions hadn’t been made in the Greek Language at the time. Whether people saw these distinctions in color is a mystery we continue to explore today.
But he has lost his dear companions and his hollow ship on the wine-dark seaHomer, The Odyssey Book XIX
Sir Isaac Newton b. 1643
The caricature of Newton holding a prism in a thin beam of light to cast a rainbow of color on the wall of a dark room does not tell the whole story. By placing a second prism within the blue of the spectrum, and noting the output was not a new rainbow, but rather, just more of the same blue, he determined that the colors did not exist within the object of the prism. Rather, white light contained all the colors we see. Color became something to measure scientifically; each color was a different frequency, perceptible, manifest in our material world.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe b. 1749
To Goethe, color was something much more elusive. He noted after staring at golden poppies in a field that when he looked away, his vision was filled with lavender dots. Afterimage opened up the mystery of color, a line of inquiry that convinced Goethe that color was much more determined by human perception than Newton had given it credit for.
Michel Eugène Chevreul b. 1786
A scientist by training, as director of a textile factory he addressed a longstanding issue in which the colors of yarn seemed to be changing in appearance. He deduced that a blue yarn appeared darker when it was viewed among gray yarn than it did among black yarn. This discovery of simultaneous contrast opened the door for a vast set of discoveries to be leveraged by coming artists.
Eugène Delacroix b. 1798
For that the laws of color which Delacroix was the first to formulate and bring to light… as Newton did for gravity and Stephenson did for steam- that those of color are a ray of light is absolutely certain.Vincent Van Gogh
One of the greatest painters of his generation, Delacroix read both Goethe and Chevreul and was obsessed with color. Apparently, while on the way to the Louvre determined to understand how Rubens and Veronese created such brilliant yellows, the story goes that the velvet purple of the coach he was riding him astounded him with such a yellow after image, he immediately turned around and went back to his studio. He had had his color awakening.
The Impressionists, Vincent Van Gogh b. 1853, Claude Monet b. 1840
While the Impressionists were certainly aware of the scientific insights occuring in their time, they seemed to push visual phenomena even further, leveraging the impact of matching the luminosity of varying hues. While neuroscientists would discover the reason much later, this group of artists achieved brilliant visual impact aided as well by the technological advancements in paint color creation.
Josef Albers b. 1888
“Color is the most relative medium in art,” declared Albers. Widely regarded as the greatest colorist of the 20th century, and certainly the greatest color educator, his Homage to the Square has been enshrined as a US postage stamp. His lessons are still practiced to this day, including making one color appear as two.
Richard ‘Dick’ Nelson b. 1930
Having studied with Albers in the 1960s at Yale University, Nelson began teaching the Albers course to students in the 1980s and continues to this day. Initially embracing digital technology to perfect many of Albers’ lessons, he ultimately came up with the color matrix: the vertical and horizontal arrangement of related color swatches all touching, the whole revealing the visual phenomenon of halation and capable of resolving every one of Albers’ lessons.