Color in Philosophy

“I saw in a photograph a boy with slick-backed blonde hair and a dirty light-colored jacket, and a man with dark hair, standing in front of a machine which was made in part of castings painted black, and in part finished, smooth axels, gears, etc., and next to it a grating made of light galvanized wire. The finished iron parts were iron colored, the boy’s hair was blonde, the castings black, the grating zinc-colored, despite the fact that everything was depicted simply in lighter and darker shades of the photographic paper.” —Remarks on Color, III-117

“Color deceives continuously” —Josef Albers (from Color Codes)

Color does not merely act deceptive, but it is itself a deception. Scientists say that color only exists in the brain of the person who is seeing it, and does not have any actual reality of its own. If a tree with green leaves and a brown trunk falls in the woods, and nobody is there to see it, is the tree still green and brown? Even within the context of the mind, color is slippery, elusive. Johannes Itten has shown us extensively how a color shifts based on what other color it is sitting next to.

Extending this to the whole of graphic design is interesting: if color is a deception, and color is a building block of design, then is design a deception as well? As designers, we constantly change and adjust form, typography and color. We tweak spatial relationships, minutely adjust kerning, and pick laboriously through Pantone chips as we work. “Design” is arguably the act of manipulation, and in our manipulation, we deceive the viewer of the work into seeing what we want them to see.

I fully embrace (and tremendously enjoy) this deception. I try to have a “gestural” relationship with design: working intensely and quickly, and without much forethought or pre-rationalization. Since I am often using the camera to work this way, deception is a critical component of my methodology. I use my camera not to make literal representations of form, but to make deceptive images that are the base of much of my designs. The design I make only really works when you see it not for what it is, but for what I am trying to deceive you into seeing.

Written in response to the following readings:
Remarks on Color, Ludwig Wittgenstein
Color Codes, Charles A. Riley II