Monday, December 15, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 9

Albers, Josef
Interaction of Color

In addition to being a member of the Bauhaus, Josef Albers was one of the foundational teachers at Black Mountain College, where he worked from 1933 to 1950, before moving on to Yale. He figures prominently in Martin Duberman's book about Black Mountain, first as an exacting, authoritative, and effective teacher and theorist of color, then later as part of the old guard that seems to be getting phased out after the war. I bought this book a couple of years ago while reading Duberman's. I can't say I am a huge fan of Albers work as an artist -- not in an of itself anyhow. It strikes me as, well, clinical. That's probably what made him a great teacher, and also what makes this book so utterly compelling. His focus on the subject of the perception and presentation and interaction of color is so relentlessly clinical it is almost poetic. The text is even cut into what look like lines and stanzas. Here's the opening of the first chapter, "Color Recollection -- Visual Memory":

If one says "Red" (the name of a color)
and there are 50 people listening,
it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds.
And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.

Even when a certain color is specified which all listeners have seen innumerable times -- such as the red of the Coca-Cola signs which is the same red all over the country -- they will still think of
many different reds.

Even if all the listeners have hundreds of reds in front of them
from which to choose the Coca-Cola red, they will again select
quite different colors. And no one can be sure that he has found
the precise red shade.

And even
if that round red Coca-Cola sign with the white name in the middle is actually shown so that everyone focuses on the same red,
each will receive the same projection on his retina,
but no one can be sure whether each has the same perception.

When we consider further the associations and reactions
which are experienced in connection with the color and the name,
probably everyone will diverge again in many different directions.


Sidenote: this reminds me of a discussion I had with Creeley, who was critiquing some of my poems.  Somehow we moved from a pun in one of my poems to a pun in the title of a John Yau book he had in front of him to the meaning of the word "red" in the Williams poem about the wheelbarrow.  Creeley said, "It reminds me of what dear old Robert Duncan once said about the red in that poem. The wheelbarrow is red. But what is red? You see? What is read."


tyrone said...

Another form of commentary on this issue, though in a completely different context: Othan Pamuk's wonderful novel, MY NAME IS RED, which I just finished teaching for the third time to some rather unforgiving students...


Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

YES! I kept thinking about that same conversation when I read Pamuk's novel. Although I guess we have to take it's punning with a grain of salt, as it probably doesn't resonate the same way in Turkish. Or in the ears of undergraduates (sigh!)