Color Perception in Plants

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Image: Tammy Jennings

For experimental philosopher and artist Jonathon Keats — the world is a playground. Unbound by conventional thinking, he pushes at the limits of our experience by creating physical manifestations of imaginative thought experiments. Such experiments challenge us to consider and contemplate our world in a way that is both concrete and tangible, not detached and academic like most forms of philosophy. One of these experiments, the Photosynthetic Restaurant, is literally a “restaurant” for plants. We all know plants need light to survive. You could even say they “eat” light, as photosynthesis is the process whereby plants convert sunlight to energy and food. The Photosynthetic Restaurant is an attempt to play with this notion of light as food by exploring and imagining the different effects and possibilities of spectral light. To make his restaurant, Keats positioned a series of colored acrylic filters in the garden at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. These transparent gels, mounted on copper poles, manipulated the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum the plants received throughout the day as the sun moved across the sky. …


by Carl Jennings

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James Turrell. Knight Rise, Scottsdale Museum of Art, AZ (Image Sean Deckert, source: http://www.scottsdalepublicart.org/permanent-art/knight-rise-skyspace)

You enter a cylindrical structure through a rectangular door. Inside the space is simple and empty; no ornamentation, just a minimalist sense of space and materials; wood, stone and concrete. The room is empty except for a bench that runs around the inside of the curved walls. People are sitting here and there, looking up at a circular monochromatic light [1] on the ceiling — the light is intense and uniformly luminous, and surrounding the light is a domed ceiling lit by hidden orange lights. The colors are sharp, saturated and seductive. …


By Carl Jennings

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http://www.taupemagazine.com

“Colors speak all languages.”

— Joseph Addison, Essays on the Pleasures of the Imagination (1828)[1]

Sinoper, Falu, Gamboge and Watchet: A strange and alien language perhaps, but one that speaks to the myriad ways in which colors can reveal themselves. Most of us can see these colors quite easily, but we would be hard-pressed to identify or even remember them. The language of color both reveals and conceals. In the sinoper common to Renaissance art, we untangle and perceive a deep rust-red, one that is distinct from the rust-red of falu, a color commonly found on Swedish barns. …


What nail polish can teach us about color perception.

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Let’s start with a simple question. What color is the square below? Is it blue or green? This question was posed to members of the Inter-Society Color Council in a survey, and the results were interesting. Men were split 60/40 in favor of blue, whereas women were more in agreement — 75/25 in favor of blue. This points to an interesting divide, not only between men and women but also between colors on the boundaries between color categories. Blue and green are considered primary colors in both the additive and opponent color systems, but they are often conflated and sometimes difficult to distinguish, and the reason might have something to do with language. …


Tetrachromacy in Humans

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One million colors, that is the approximate number the typical human eye can see. This is due primarily to the fact that our eyes contain three different types of photoreceptors, known as cones, that are responsible for detecting wavelengths in the visible spectrum, with different yet overlapping ranges. They are known as short (S), middle (M) and long-wave (L) cones, because each has its peak sensitivity in the respective range. Because humans possess these three types of cones, they are described as trichromats (tri = 3, chroma = color). The perception of color is not simply a matter of wavelength detection, as it involves various stages of neuronal processing. But the ability to detect and discriminate colors is affected by the variety of cones in the eye. Dogs, and the majority of mammals for example, have only two types of cones, so they are known as dichromats. As a result, they can detect and discriminate fewer colors than humans. On the other hand, some animals such as certain species of birds, fish, butterflies, and bees, are known as tetrachromats, because they have four types of cones and can see and discriminate many more colors than humans. By some estimates, they can see about 100 million different colors or about 99 million more than we can! …


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Fig 1: (left) Blue, Mary Gartside, from ’An essay on light and shade’, 1805. Source: Alexandra Loske. (right) Emily Noyes Vanderpoel, Plate V — Advancing and Retiring Colors, Color problems; a practical manual for the lay student of color (1902) Source: Hathitrust.org.

In “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971), feminist art historian Linda Nochlin turned the commonly accepted ideas of genius upside down. She demonstrated how greatness has as much, if not more, to do with social access (education, current ideas and trends, patronage, distribution, etc.) as it does with unique traits and abilities. For the same reason that there are no ‘famous Eskimo [sic] tennis players’, women were often absent from the esteemed canon of Western art and science and the history of color and color theory is no exception. But recent scholarship Dr. Alexandra Loske and John Ptak has begun to identify women who were actively involved in color research and whose insights and ideas have prefigured later developments more often associated with men. Mary Gartside in England and Emily Noyes Vanderpoel in America are two such women. They both published books on color theory in their lifetimes and characteristically presented their work as painting manuals under the guise and genre of flower painting and the decorative arts — areas befitting to women of their time. But these were more than the traditional ‘manuals for ladies’. They were works of great originality and learning, and in many ways ahead of their time. Their ideas on color focused primarily on the phenomenology and experience of color, color harmony, modulation and color relationships, ideas that prefigured some of the concepts and approaches to color theory that were later taken up and popularized by the other sex. Besides the content; however, both are remarkably similar for the striking beauty and originality of approach in their abstract and non-representational color ‘illustrations’. …


The curious history of black and white dreams

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Billie Burke as Glenda the Good Witch and Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz (Image source: Rex/Everett Collection. Image manipulation: author)

The question “Do you dream in color?” is one that most of us have probably been asked, or have considered at some point. If so, what would you answer? Do you remember what your dreams look like? Are they in color or are they in black and white? If you think about it, there is something slightly odd about this question and its implicit assumption. In other words, why would we not dream in color? The world, and our experience of the world, is full of color, so why wouldn’t our dreams also be colorful? Why would we ever assume that we dream in black and white, or grayscale? The question, as it turns out, reveals a lot about how we think about and remember our experiences, and might even be a product of having lived in the technological age. At the beginning of the 20th century, our dreams changed color, or to be more accurate, our descriptions of our dreams changed — and then, in the 1960s they changed again! …


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Color is a code, a sign, a message –we use it to communicate and in turn, it has the power to shape how we think and feel. For the last 500 years or so, black has been making its way to the front of the line as the color of sophistication, culture, power, and self-control. On the streets of Paris, New York, London and Tokyo, black rules supreme. To be civilized is to eschew color, to resist its temptations and its charms. As Goethe observed of his times, nearly 200 years ago, “… savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a great predilection for vivid colors… people of refinement avoid vivid colours in their dress”. …

About

Carl Jennings

artist, writer, colorist, professor of art and creative thinking http://www.cjennings.com

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