“Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour. Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” – Paul Klee, Tunisia
Isaac Newton changed forever our understanding of light and color when he split a ray of white light into its respective visible frequencies—a rainbow—and recombined them back into white light with two prisms. At that moment he intuited that color is a perception made apparent by our eyes, not an immutable quality which “belonged” to objects. Light is color, and color makes beauty in our eyes.
Light is made of electromagnetic waves of different vibrational frequencies, which are themselves just a small part of the all-encompassing electromagnetic field which is our universe. Although we are generally unaware of it, the whole world is vibrating constantly within this field. Only .0035% of the entire electromagnetic spectrum is visible to us as white light, which means there is a world of light humans can’t see.
The frequency at which an object vibrates ultimately determines its color—it is the key to which wavelengths of light an object will absorb and which it will reflect. The color of an object, like a beautiful rose, is actually the rejected wavelength of light, not the cloak of red we think it is. The absorbed colors, those the plant uses to give it life, remain hidden to us. The colors of everything we see are the remainders, the unabsorbed hues, which we interpret as the color of the thing itself. If we could ask the rose what color it is, it might just as well tell us that it is all the colors it absorbs, the yellows and blues, but not the red we see. It radiates red because of its vibrational frequency. But to us, it is a thing of beauty. In a way, beauty exists as a by-product of rejection.
“In a sense, one could speak of the secret life of colour. Despite its outward beckoning, like true beauty, colour is immensely hesitant in giving away its secrets. Painters learn to respect the hesitancy of colour and endeavour to refine their skill to become worthy of its revelations. A painter learns the language of colour slowly. As with any language, you struggle for a long time outside the language. There is a willed deliberateness to how you sequence the strange words to make a sentence.Then one day the language lets you in to where the words dance to your thoughts with ease and fluency. Perhaps for the painter there is a day when colour lets him in, when his palette sings with synergy and delight.”
– John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
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–John and Ann