Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Goethe's colors


This year is the 200th anniversary of the publication of Goethe's Zür Farbenlehre (Theory of Colors) in 1810. Goethe was inordinately proud of his achievement in producing this vast tome. He stated “I am the only person in this century who has the right insight into the difficult science of colors...and that is what gives me the feeling that I have outstripped many.”

His sense of accomplishment was not misplaced. While Newton (for example) had viewed color perception as a physical phenomenon, the effect of light striking objects and entering our eyes, Goethe realized that it is also shaped by perception, which involves the way our brains process data. Goethe studied how colors produce somatic and emotional effects in the perceiver. His work on after-images, colored shadows and complementary colors was a major influence on artists and occultists. He anticipated Hering’s “opponent-color” theory, which is one basis of our modern understanding of the perception of colors.


The first plate of Zür Farbenlehre includes a color wheel and diagrams of distorted color perception. The landscape at the bottom depicts how a scene would look to someone who was blue-yellow color blind. Thanks to Tom Cheetham for alerting me to this.

7 comments:

Don said...

I am glad that Goethe saw colors as more than scientific measurements of wavelength. Colors do produce somatic and emotional effects.
I often see music as a play of colors. (That is one reason why I am not fond of modern percusive music.) Sometimes when I see a play of colors I "hear" music. I think Goethe might approve.

La Belette Rouge said...

Really interesting. I didn't know all this about Goethe.
p.s. It sounds like Goethe had a very healthy sense of self.;-)

Karolyn said...

That is so fascinating! I am going to be taking a class next week where the primary healing modality will be using frequency patterns that are individualized to each participant. The frequency patterns look like multi-colored fractal images. When one views them it affects the bio-energetic field and like Don said can produce somatic and emotional healing affects at the core energetic level.

I believe Goethe was on to something!

Paula said...

Thank you for this blog post. I have enjoyed reading you blog posts since attending your workshop in Ashville.

I was not aware of Goethe's theory of colors. I'll have to find a translation copy. I am well aware of the somatic and emotional qualities of color, and have seen their expressive use in art therapy sessions, and of course in my own dreams.

Are you familiar with Rudolf Steiner?
http://www.steinerbooks.org/aboutrudolf.html

During the 1890s, Steiner worked for seven years in Weimar at the Goethe archive. I know color is important in Steiner's work, and now I know who planted that seed, Goethe.

Interestingly Rudolf Steiner's work recently came up in a discussion I was having. Someone sent me a link on Anthroposohical art therapy. When I looked on the website I found that this branch of art therapy was heavily influenced by the work of Rudolf Steiner. Just a day before that I was talking to another friend who mentioned Rudolf Steiner and his theories on healing sound (Chirophonetics). I had found that converstion interesting as well because of my thesis topic: A historical review of cross cultural research on dream processing. I found in my research that sound is often used in ritual reinactment of dreams, or to create a lucid state (which of course you already know!)

I was familiar with Steiner because there was a woman who graduated from the art therapy program I attended who based her thesis on the work of Rudolf Steiner, and the use of color.

Interesting stuff and this has definately got my attention. So now we come full circle. Did you ever figure out the significance of "poison green"?

Robert Moss said...

Paula - Yes, I am quite familiar with Rudolf Steiner and his book on "The Knowledge of Higher Worlds" had significant influence on me quarter of a century ago, when I was trying to integrate and form models of some life-changing visionary experiences. However, I have not studied Steiner's work with colors.

You have an excellent memory! I named a certain shade of equivocal light, in a dream, as "poison green" and I continue to think that was a warning not to accept an invitation to certain astral adventure without careful forethought!

Robert Moss said...

La Belette - Goethe's "healthy sense of self" extended, in a more notorious quote you bring to mind, to stating, "I felt myself god enough to go down among the daughters of men."

La Belette Rouge said...

Wowza! That is some quote. Someone was living out of the archetype of the Self.