An Introduction to Color Theory

Color theory is the science and art of using color. Color is a powerful element in art when used effectively as it can invoke specific emotions; be sure to check out my blog on color psychology. For artists, painters, and designers, color theory provides guidance on the relationship between colors and the physiological impacts of certain color combinations. By understanding color theory, you will better understand the relationship between colors and how we perceive them.  Color theory is complex, but today’s blog will cover just the basics. 

The general principles of color theory have existed since the 15th century, evident in the writings of figures including Leone Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci. It wasn’t until the start of the 17th century that Sir Isaac Newton developed the first color wheel, a powerful tool still used to this day. Altogether, the color wheel consists of 12 colors: three primary colors, three secondary colors, and six tertiary colors. 

Primary colors allow artists to mix virtually any color on the spectrum. These are the building blocks for all other colors and cannot be created by mixing any other pigments. The primary colors are blue, yellow, and red. Secondary colors are created when any two of the primary colors. They are equidistant from each other on the color wheel and are orange, green, and violet. Tertiary colors are formed when mixing a primary color with a secondary color. 

There are a few terms in color theory that you will encounter, including hue, value, and saturation. Hue refers to the “root” color, and is often used similarly to color. It generally refers to the dominant wavelength of color out of the twelve colors on the color wheel. For example, the hue of navy is blue, or for burgundy, its hue is red. Value refers to how light or dark a color is. A color can be lightened with the addition of white and darkened by adding black. However, different colors can have the same value! Saturation is a measure of a color’s intensity or purity. To reduce the saturation of a color,  add grey or the color that is opposite of your color on the wheel. Adding the opposite color essentially neutralizes the colors, thus making it less intense. 

The Intricate Tragedy of Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh is possibly one of the most talented painters of all time. He certainly is one of the most well known in art history, his story and life as tragically beautiful as his bold impressionist art work.

Van Gogh was born in the rolling hills of Groot-Zundert, Holland on March 30, 1853. The son of a pastor, he was brought up in a very religious and cultured environment. As a boy, Vincent was categorized as highly emotional, self-conscious, and struggled with his life’s calling. At first, he believed that he was called to preach the gospel message like his father, before discovering his true calling was to be an artist. Between 1860 and 1880, around the time of his blossoming into art, he already had a multitude of failed romances and job prospects.

In 1886 he joined his brother Theo in Paris and got connected with the art community. He tried to copy the style of techniques of other artists but failed in those endeavors as well. The mounting stress, failure, and mental health issues landed him in the asylum in Saint-Remy for treatment. During his time in the asylum, he painted some of the most beautiful and notable art pieces of his career. After he recovered, he continued to paint and express himself through his art.

He was never a successful painter during his life. Selling less than a dozen paintings, living in malnourished poverty, and struggling consistently with mental health. He took his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1890, wanting nothing more than to the end of it all.

One of Vincent Van Gogh’s death’s most heartbreaking parts was that he died believing his artwork was worthless. His neighbors, fellow artists, and family members considered him a time-wasting madman. He barely sold any paintings, and left this world thinking he failed. Not knowing that he would become one of the most beautiful and intricate artistic icons of not only the impressionist movement but in most of art history.

When you look at the last three years of Vincent’s art, you see something incredible. His technique grew more and more impassioned, his brushstrokes dramatic and frenzied. His use of color and surface tension was simply mesmerizing. His inimitable work was full of imagination and pure unbridled emotion. Looking at his artwork is like listening to a lonley violin solo or witnessing a dramatic play come to life; it kidnaps your attention and your heart. Through fits of madness and deep depression, Vincent took the pain of life and translated it into a pure ecstasy of color. Pain is easy to portray on a canvas, the blues and blacks like a familiar rhythm tapped on the heartstrings of the human experience. But Vincent Van Gogh took the crushing pain of reality and turned it into the beauty of life.. One of the most dramatic and skilled processes an artist can ever hope to achieve. Vincent did it naturally, genuinely, and honestly. Like puzzle pieces falling together, all leading to the same conclusion, the brilliance of Vincent Van Gogh.

What Pieces of Art Survived the Notre Dame Fire and What was Lost

On April 15, the roof of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris caught on fire. The fire burned for 12 hours before firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze. While the roof of the Cathedral and the iconic spire collapsed, not everything is a loss. A lot of the precious relics and artwork were able to be saved from the building. First responders and firefighters formed a human chain to pass many of the artifacts to safety.

 

According to French Culture Minister Franck Riester, many of the most vital artwork and artifacts were able to be saved. Many of the pieces will be moved to the Louvre to be restored or repaired if needed. The Crown of Thorns thought to be worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, and a 13th-century tunic believed to be worn by St. Louis, the only French king that was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

 

A number of other famed pieces of art survived the fire. The three large stained glass Rose Windows survived the fire and don’t seem to have suffered any significant damage. The Cathedral’s grand organ, made up of over 8,000 pipes with some dating back to the Medieval period, is also thought to be safe, although it may have experienced water damage while the fire was being extinguished. The copper statues of the 12 apostles are safe. The statues had been removed a few days before the fire to be cleaned and restored, as they were badly tarnished.

 

Four large-scale paintings of the apostles from the 17th and 18th century suffered at least part damage. A separate part of the Crown of Thorns is known to have been lost during the fire, in addition to relics from two other saints. The unofficial symbol of France, a Gallic depiction of a rooster, is in poor shape.

 

The status of many items inside the Cathedral is unknown. State employees have to wait 48 hours before being allowed to enter the building to be able to care for the artwork inside. The fate of a nail and piece of wood believed to have used in the crucifixion of Jesus are unknown.

 

Because the fire was mostly contained to the roof, it’s believed that the flames have not damaged most of the artwork inside. However, there may be smoke damage to the pieces. Starting Friday, some of the most significant pieces of art will start being removed.  

Seven Great Women Artists Throughout History

These seven women made an incredible impact on the art world.

 

Mary Cassatt (1844–1926)

Cassatt was a painter and printmaker who is remembered as the only American artist associated with the Impressionist movement. Frequently, her subjects were women and children. Her famous works include The Mandolin Player and In the Loge.

 

American Modernist painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

O’Keeffe was heavily influenced by photography. Many of her paintings imitated photographic techniques such as cropping and close-ups. Red Canna and Black Iris III are enlarged floral images that are typical of O’Keeffe’s work.

 

Painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Kahlo closely tied her identity, her artwork, and her homeland of Mexico. About one-third of her paintings are self-portraits, which often reflected her emotions surrounding events in her life. The Two Fridas show her conflicted feelings at the time of her divorce from Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

 

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)

Kusama is known for paintings and art installations featuring polka dots. She has also created mirrored rooms as art installations to explore the concept of infinity. In 2017, Kusama had the distinction of being the world’s top-selling female artist.

 

American sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907)

Lewis relocated to Rome as a young adult to pursue her profession in an environment that did not single her out for her color. (Her father was African-American and her mother was Native American.) Her work depicted neoclassical, biblical, contemporary subjects. The Death of Cleopatra is a masterpiece of realism and was commissioned to celebrate America’s centennial in 1876.

 

Printmaker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)

Catlett was born in the United States but moved to Mexico in 1946, which became her home for the rest of her life. Her work depicts African-American and Mexican life and often has strong political themes. Her notable sculptures include Homage to My Young Black Sisters and Tired.

 

Agnes Martin (1912–2004)

Born and raised in Canada, Martin moved to the United States in 1931. While Martin’s early paintings are representational, her style evolved during her career. Eventually, geometric images featuring lines and grids became her signature work. Martin is sometimes classified as minimalist although her paintings also show the influence of surrealism, cubism, and abstract expressionism. White Stone, Little Sister, and Fiesta are some of her celebrated works.

How Art History Needs to Change in 2019

The underlying issue with history of any kind is that the subject itself is subjective. A saying commonly attributed to Winston Churchill is that “history is written by the victors.” In many ways, art history is no different in this regard.

 

According to a study conducted by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, staff hired by art museums tend to favor predominantly non African-American and Hispanics. A rough total of 7 percent of workers are made up of said minorities. This shows a distressing lack of cultural and racial diversity in regards to the staff employed in art museums.

 

This is an important factor as art history refers to the collective artistic culture of humanity throughout the ages. Every person has their own interpretation of how art is viewed, and this should be reflected by the staff hired to educate those who come to witness history.

 

Art is by its very nature a constantly changing structure where what’s vogue at the time is constantly in a state of flux. However, due to the perception of the kind of art that is considered popular or correct at the time, many artists find themselves marginalized. Those artists who pursue different styles, or create pieces particularly poking at the edges of civilized sensitivity, find themselves relegated to the wayside of history. More must be done to include such artists with the purpose of broadening horizons to better reflect the times of today.

 

That is not to say there has been no progress on that front. The museum located in Tate, Britain have recently opened a tour called “A Queer Walk Through British Art.” This tour includes pieces that highlight an alternate view of human sexuality throughout history. One such example is the “Ena and Betty”, a painting created in 1901 by John Singer Sargent that subtly highlights close female companionship of a possibly homoerotic kind.

 

This, of course, is open to interpretation as are many pieces in that same gallery. As noted before, everyone has a different view on art, and that is something that should be embraced. It is through these differing viewpoints that complex histories may be unraveled and new discoveries may be made. What one person sees as a simple, but tasteful painting, another may find hidden meaning underneath the canvas.