Graduate Seminar: COLOR!
Wednesday | 2:00 - 5:00pm
How strange is our attempt to write about the visual, and color is perhaps the most challenging visual quality to describe, even to name. Art historians have devoted books upon books to perspective and to drawing, but color is too often unspoken (or randomly mentioned). This seminar will focus on case studies across the history of art that allow us to interrogate the history and elusive yet powerful impact of color, and we will continually try to test how we can write about its effects. We will write.
Scientific theory (and color wheels!) will not be our emphasis; instead we will focus on color as at a culturally and historically specific signifier, a material substance, and an optical effect. Color has been associated with the low, the irrational, the bodily as well as women, racial others, mass culture, and spirituality. It has been opposed to drawing and rationality; as pigment, it has circulated globally and fought over (cochineal, indigo, gold), playing a role in empire. Art theorists and artists have argued about its relative (un)importance in texts and in art. Philosophers have often avoided talking about it, but some have struggled with its wordlessness; its utter resistance to language; its ineffability. Writing on color as “the irreducible component of representation that escapes the hegemony of language,” Jacqueline Lichtenstein has argued that “philosophical thought has always burned itself on the fire of color.”
Among topics that we may consider: color as a semiotic code (to cite the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins);color as material value; “lost colors”; color as organic and mineral; color as excess and superfice, ornament and cosmetics; “chromophobia;” color in the “New World;” early modern conceptions of skill versus color as material value (gold, lapis), and disegno versus colore (Lebrun versus De Piles, Poussin versus Rubens); so-called “coloristic painting” (e.g. Venetian, Delacroix, Bonnard); polychrome sculpture; impressionist color as optical effect and personal vision ; the differing roles of color in mass reproduction; the invention of man-made colors; the role of color in modernism and abstraction; color in photography; color and race.
This seminar will be guided in part by participants’ interests, so start thinking about a color problem in your field of study. Guests will, I hope, share their differing perspectives on color in specific western and non-western historical contexts. Interested undergraduates need to contact me before the semester begins.