Color in Art

Desiree Maloney

ART 335

Book Review

Color in Art. By John Gage. (Thames & Hudson, 2006. 196pp.).

The idea of color may be obvious to a lot of people but there is more to it verse what people may perceive when just looking at an item. Color is produced when light strikes an object and is reflected back to the eye. Author John Gage goes into great detail throughout his book Color in Art when explaining different aspects of color in history. Gage begins by explaining how color transformed over time. He highlights how the start of using primary colors eventually lead to a great deal of color choices for artists. From there he then breaks down the different aspects that contributed to the evolution of color. For example Gage discusses the psychological, significance, language, and senses of color throughout his book. Gage does a great job at breaking down the various components of color through his chapters. Each chapter focuses on one main contribution to color. If someone wanted to learn about a specific concept on the development of color, this book is very accessible because of the way it is formatted. There are visual aids as well, so the reader can understand what is being explained within the page.  Based off the information presented by Gage, before studies were done on the concept of spectral colors, artists were forming their artwork based off what they were seeing. Artist started to shift their focus on depicting the mood to their artwork by using specific groups of colors together. Overtime, the evolution of color has helped influence the choices artist make when choosing their tonal palettes for their artwork.

One of the first aspects that contributed to the development of color was the development of the color spectrum. During the ancient Greek time period, pigments of color were the ideal go to medium for artwork. There was no formal understanding of a color wheel and its supporting factors like secondary, complementary, and analogous colors. Aristotle was one of the first philosophers to understand that color needed to be studied and not just blended as most painters did (16). Studies of the color spectrum came about during the seventeenth century when Sir Isaac Newton did his spectrum study of color. Before that study took place, the understanding of primary colors started to become noted in the 1100’s. One of the contributing factors was the use of stained glass art. Artists were using the main colors red, yellow, and blue in their work because they found that it was able to depict the naturalistic element of light best. A good example of this styled work was The Crucifixion and the Ascension found in the Pointers Cathedral (21). It consisted of a fluent use in red, yellow, blue, and small hints of green throughout the piece. Even over time, the idea of using primary colors was still favored by many artists. During the De Stijl movement artist favored the use of this triad color palette. Artist like Barnett Newman felt that these colors should be expressive rather than didactic (27). Along with his ideas of these colors came a series of artwork that showcased the true essence of the trio.

While some artist later in the century enjoyed the visual concept of using primary colors, earlier in the years, the sense of the color spectrum becoming more known excited artist like Vincent van Gogh. There first came the spectral study and then the more detailed circular study of color after that. Newton eventually took his linear spectrum and transformed it into a color circle. This was ideal for him because he needed to mathematically plot the location of mixed colors. The adaption to the color spectrum lead to many studies by artist who felt there was a relationship between different colors and how they fell on the color wheel. For artist like Frantisek Kupka, he felt as though certain colors created a vibration more than others when placed side by side. This idea brought him to create his work Disks of Newton (35). This piece portrayed the concept of circles and the use of colors that fell next to each other on the color wheel, as well as across. Now there was a formal knowledge of color starting to really develop in art. The exploration of tonalities in the different colors on the color wheel paved the way for a new approach to art. This shifted artist’s focus on psychological meanings behind color. The idea of creating a mood with a certain set of colors helped develop the deeper logic behind the artist work.

Gage opens up his chapter about the psychology of color by explaining how darkness had been an important perception of color in the real world as well as in paintings done earlier in the years (61). The use of dark colors such as black had always played a role in depicting a negative tone within art. The use of this color made it easier for artist to present a specific mood such as death, depression, or tragedy. Eventually the use of dark colors would become something that wasn’t used for negative subject pieces. The use of blacks would be paired with positive art pieces like in Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s painting, La Loge. He shows a woman and a man of high status dressed in black and white. Renoir plays with the use of light and dark in his painting, while still managing to keep an upbeat piece. Gage is starting to formulate a sense of understanding for the reader when it comes to color.  He goes into further detail by talking about Friedrich Friebel. Friebel was a Romantic Idealist educator who introduced the use of bright colors and abstract shapes in his children’s toys. It was believed that the use of the bright colors helped encourage creative play in kids. Through the study he conducted, it was also concluded that babies are able to distinguish red, blue, yellow, and green years before they even had the word capacity to name them. The use of the bold colors transpired into fashion choices as well as furniture designs. Bright yellows would be seen in things like baby cradles, due to its association with giving off high energy. During the holidays people would dress in the bold colors for the sake of the occasion. Artists began to even formulate differences in moods when it came to warm and cool colors.  Around the 18th century was when the idea of warm and cool colors gained recognition. With the understanding that color can hold a psychological meaning within a piece of art, the knowledge behind color begins to grow even more in Gage’s book Color in Art. Gage continues on into a chapter that talks about the significance in color.

Many colors tended to hold representational meanings. Overtime colors began to develop symbolic meanings behind them. Throughout the Middle Ages purple had been associated with royalty. Gage states that because this color was exceptionally laborious it was costly to produce (148). These characteristics made purple targeted for imperial households and the government. Even till this day the color purple is associated with a sense of high status. The use of color is also apparent within many of the flags seen around the country. When it comes to the green, it was believed that this color symbolizes hope. This idea was taken from the Christian theological virtues. While many different colors hold different meanings, some colors can have multiple meanings. Gage point out how red is a good example of being a color that can hold multiple representations. In this particular chapter he states how red can symbolize war, bravery, blood, authority, fire, faith, sun and many more (153). It just shows that the use of color is all in the context of the image produced. In Eugene Delacroix painting, Liberty Leading the People, one can imply that the flag being held with the red in it symbolizes war because of the setting in which the artist painted. The setting is either during or right after a battle. In the right side of the frame, a woman can be seen holding a flag that consists of the colors red, white, and blue. The development of artist expanding their knowledge of color helped shape a more versatile creation of art over the years.

Through the exploration of color, artist discovered new principles that helped form a deeper meaning within their art. More artists were able to utilize various colors in a harmonic way, thus adding to the tone of their paintings. The development of the color spectrum was the starting point that shifted the techniques artists were using. From there, the idea that color could hold a psychological meaning also created diversity in paintings. This allowed paintings to show a certain mood even better when paired with colors that complemented the specific feeling. Colors being able to hold a symbolic tone transformed the way certain objects or people may have been painted just based off of the color choice. Someone who was of royal status may have been painted with a lot of purple due the meaning behind that color. Overall Gage managed to break down the important factors that developed over time within color in a way that was effective and engaging.


Extra Credit: Art Deco

By the 1920’s a new style of art had emerged into the design market, Art Deco. Around the 1930’s this style eventually made its way to Western Europe and the United States, becoming a major influence to designers in both regions. At this point poster style is already booming in the market for designers. Art Deco managed to take the evolution of poster style and opened up new viewpoints of advertisement. With artist exploring new ideas, this art style eventually influences the style of modern American art. A lot of artist at the time were also immigrating to the United States, which shifted the artistic perspective that America held. Over time the use of this style opened up new ideas for designers in the design world. Taking characteristics from Art Deco furthered the development of modern art. Art Deco, as well as contributing artist, helped pave the way for the designs created over the years to come.

When Art Deco began there was a drive for more modern unified designs. People didn’t want the heavily styled advertisements anymore. This need for something new shifted the focus of designs to commercial products. Designs were now geared towards decorative and industrial arts. Artist using the Art Deco style could now target consumers at a broader range. The new design tactic appeared simplistic, consisted of symmetry, planarity, and geography. In earlier years, some artwork tended to be very illustrative. The designs didn’t really focus in on the importance of products being advertised. One artist who is very influential to the Art Deco style is A.M Cassandre. He managed to successfully create visual designs that appealed to the consumer. Caddandre’s advertisement for Dubonnet liquor is a great example of how he utilizes Art Deco in his work. In the advertisement there is an apparent use of simplicity. The figures are made up of geometric like shapes, which is one of the key characteristics to this art style. There is also the way Cassandre focuses on the product being advertised. He gives a three-step illustration of a man drinking the wine with sub titles below each picture. The use of turning trendy fashions into something marketable to the public was something Cassandra was successful in, even when moving towards modern American art.

The shift from Art Deco eventually moved to the modern American art style. With America incorporating this style of art into their designs, there was now a new sense of creativity in the way artist created work. For example Fortune Magazine incorporated the Art Deco style in their 1937 issue. There was the strong use of geometric shapes, simplistic design esthetic, and mainstream focus on the consumer themselves. This technique was also seen in advertisements for the Rural Electrification Administration. Throughout the years, this style continued to be an influence to designers. Today, graphic designers tend to use a style called flat design, which is similar to Art Deco. This particular style of art utilized strong geometric shapes as well as a simple color palette. Flat design tends to be paired with san serif fonts, which was also a typeface style often paired with Art Deco designs. Some of the characteristics that came from Art Deco transpired into modern day art. The need to appeal to the consumer is one of the main characteristics. There is also the idea of “less is more” being carried over into a lot of advertisements and magazine designs done today. The simplistic straight to the point designs found in Art Deco have helped open up new ideas for graphic artist to explore in todays era of art.

The Macbook Pro


The MacBook Pro by no surprise is an item used worldwide amongst millions of people in society today. This tech savvy device is one of the top competing computer brands on the market. In the image, the MacBook Pro can be seen with its simple yet modern design. The company Apple, who specialize in products like the iPhone, iPad, and iPod, established this computer. Apple hdsc_8940olds a high reputation in the technology market due to their cohesive product line. When it comes to Apple’s computers there’s a variety of targeted consumers. Specifically for the MacBook Pro, one targeted audience would be graphic designers due to the laptops features such as their retina screen display and increased RAM space. While this device can be used for many different everyday tasks it also has a clean look to it that consists of may stylistic qualities.

There are different design elements present in this particular computer. The main shapes of the MacBook consist of two large rectangular forms. On the base of the computer are smaller black rectangular keys that lay horizontally on the plane. Below the black squares is a light grey rectangular track pad. If one was to closely look, the faint rectangle slightly dips down into the base of the computer, giving it a sense of depth. The way the colors contrast with each other also stands out. Two of the colors that is most apparent are black and grey, with black taking up majority of the piece. The screen and frame of the MacBook are all black, while the base of the computer is a light grey color.  The way the black offsets the grey allows the viewer to see the dimension throughout the whole computer. For example, the small square keys that fall along the base of the laptop show depth because of the grey that intertwines between the keys. Another stylistic element to this design is the texture. The overall form is smooth, with the exception of the keypad. Even though they are elevated, the forms still have a flushed surface to them. This computer sits on an almost perfect 90-degree angle, which show the symmetrical relationship between the top and bottom pieces of the laptop. Due to the angle the MacBook sits on, there is also a slight shadow that appears underneath of it. This shadow gives the viewer an idea of the deepness that is apparent along the front and sides of the item. Towards the top left hand corner, the presents of a slight glare can be seen as well. This gives off the sense that the surface may be similar to glass or hard plastic since it shows a reflection from the light. Overall, there is a sense of unity within the design due to the way the colors compliment each other, the shapes are symmetrical, and the textures are cohesive throughout.

This laptop is something that is resourceful within society, especially with technology advancing everyday. The fact that this computer is portable as well as verily slim in design adds to the effectiveness of the product. Based off a lot of products Apple has put out, their use in simplicity is always very apparent, which show in the MacBook Pro design. The very simplistic color palette as well as the overall sleek look to the computer is pleasing to the eye in personal opinion. Like the saying “Less is more”, Apple definitely has conformed to this phrase.  There is also a feeling of sophistication in the overall design. All of Apple’s products carry the signature apple logo and muted color palette to complement the design. This allows the consumer to focus in on the important aspects of the computer rather than be distracted by an overworked design concept. The design aesthetic can be seen as very clean and straight to the point. This adds to the fact that Apple raves about the speed and technological advances their product offers compared to other marketed laptops. Their design choice also creates a sense of luxury due to the sleek modern style of the computer. The simplistic design Apple chose for their computer also keeps the historic feel of the original laptop, with a twist of more modern features. Due to the stylistic choices Apple has made, their computer is one of the top selling brands to date.

Let’s Talk Raoul Hausmann

Image result for Raoul Hausmann

By the time the late 1800’s started to come to an end, new movements started to evolve for the art world. The Cubist and Dada movements featured many famous artists who made a mark in history. Raoul Hausmann is one man who was known throughout the Dada movement. His style of work helped influence many styles utilized today within our mainstream media. Hausmann was born in Vienna but in 1900 he relocated to Berlin with his parents. Painting was one of the first forms of art Hausmann learned due to his father being a painter. Raoul later began to do publications and poems for many different cultural magazines. This then led him to have Dadaist thinking as well as ideas. By 1918 Hausmann is in his full swing of the Dada movement when he participates in the first Dada soirées. From there is where Raoul developed his photomontage process.

With Hausmann’s development of photomontage it was a great tool he utilized to show satire and political protest within his work. One specific work Hausmann is known for is his ABCD self-portrait photomontage made in 1923. This work was made specifically to announce Hausmanns performance of a phonetic poem. At first glance the piece is all over the place. There are cut outs overlapping each other as well as the play on reality verses imagination. The information the artist wanted know is strategically placed throughout the work. In Raouls clenched teeth was a prototypical poem that said ABCD. Hausmann managed to also give the illusion of the tickets to the Kaiserjubilee in the hat created on his head.


Raoul Hausmann, ABCD, 1923

Image result for Raoul HausmannImage result for Raoul Hausmann

Raoul managed to take viewers into a transformed space when he created his photomontages. The way Hausmann broke the rules of traditional art was one of the key features to artists who produced work during the Dada movement. By the 1950’s the Dada movement attracted renewed interest by the United States. With the revival of the Dada movement, Hausmann began to correspond with many leading American artists. Raoul would discuss the Dada movement as well as the contemporary relevance. Today similar styles of photomontage like what Hausmann used can be seen in mainstream media. Designers may use this style of art in advertisements like nickelodeon used in some of their 90’s Ads.


“Raoul Hausmann, ‘The Art Critic’ 1919–20.” Tate. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

“Raoul Hausmann Biography – Infos – Art Market.” Raoul Hausmann Biography – Infos – Art Market. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.

Courtesans In Art History: Who Were These Women? Why Where They So Important?

When we look at art we may ask who is this mysterious subject matter? What may have brought them to become the muse to the artist as well as the face to their master piece. Many artists such as Kitagawa Utamaro and Alphonse Mucha used courtesans as their subject focus in their work. A courtesan is basically a glorified prostitute and these women played major roles for a lot of artist when it came to exploring the worlds of art. These women were even known to be in works that dated back to the Renaissance era in which the term “courtesan” originated. They often helped bring together the vision that artist may have had for their work. A lot of the time the courtesans were the central point to the work that even played in with the details of the actual art itself.

  1. A Pair of Lovers Kitagawa Utamaro Date: 1795 2. Alphonse Mucha

To be more specific the term courtesan came from the fact that these were women of the court, which originated around 1540 (Knight 1). These women weren’t just regular prostitutes but that of high class. They charged a high price to lay with them or seek any one on one time. When the 1800’s rolled around especially in France, being a sex symbol wasn’t that bad of a lifestyle for some women. Especially due to the fact that in a place like France sex sold very easily because of their life style standards already planted in society. Don’t let it be mistaken though, It wasn’t all flowers and sunshine in some places like England in comparison to France. Women did have an opportunity to be very wealthy if they managed to become a successful courtesan. There are women who are still remembered till this day for being famous prostitutes. Nell Gwynne is a very infamous. She was a courtesan to many people of royalty such as the mistress to King Charles II (Cellania 1).

blog-3Courtesan, Nell Gywnne

   Back around the 1750’s and 1900’s prostitution was the norm, possibly even a sense of revolution to art. In Paris courtesans were one of the key subject for artists. These artists found modernity as well as inspiration for these women of the night (Farago 1). Toulouse-Lautrec’s is a good example of a famous artist that admired the use of these fast paced women in his art. He managed to capture them in such a natural, raw environment.


Toulouse-Lautrec’s Rue des Moulins shows the indignity of forced medical inspections that Parisian prostitutes endured

Without these women a lot of artist would not have been able to get into the true exploration that art had to offer during those important mile stones in history. These women weren’t just sex symbols but they allowed artist to venture off into a territory that may have been frowned upon in society. The provocative, lustful side these women added to art created this forced attention from society through art. It opened doors to an abundance of new views on the women body as well as self expression.


Works Cited:

Farago, Jason. “Courtesans and Street Walkers: Prostitutes in Art.” BBC. N.p., 10 Sept. 15. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

“Tag Archives: Nell Gwynne.” LA CONCHIGLIA DI VENERE. N.p., 25 Feb. 11. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Cellania, Miss. “The Lady’s Not a Tramp: History’s Greatest Courtesans.”Neatorama. N.p., 30 Sept. 14. Web. 29 Sept. 2016.

Knight, Eliza. “The Life of a Courtesan.” N.p., 09 Apr. 09. Web. 29 Sept. 16.