Colour Theorist Notes – Goethe

I stumbled across a set of youtube lectures by ‘PehrSall’ (Schaeffer Art) having first perused Goethe’s colour theory book and wondered where on Earth to start a précis of it.  This 4 part lecture has helped considerably in providing paraphrased notes below.

Lecture 1.

Goethe’s journey into colour theory began with a trip to Italy where he asked artists questions relating to colour. He didn’t have satisfactory answers so undertook his own studies.

He started by looking at Newton’s prism and discovered that colour only seemed to appear at edges.  He found two boundary prismatic spectrums when rotating a prism over black and white checkered boards.  In one direction yellow hues appeared and in the other blue hues appeared. When the two spectrums merged, the other complementary colours of spectrum resulted. He found Newton’s spectrum and also an inverted spectrum.  He concluded that Netwon had only found half the story and that colour was based on both lightness and darkness and all colours known could be found in both spectrums.  His findings were ridiculed as a simple attack on Newtonian concepts.

PherSall. (Unknown). schaeffer art: Goethe’s theory of colour. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnfVlENcHbU. Last accessed 07/01/2014/01/2014.

Lecture 2.

Goethe experimented with the eye’s reaction to light and colour. Staring at a window frame for a few seconds leaves an after image on the eye that can then be seen as a ‘negative’ effect when eyes move to a plain surface.  Staring at a 3d cube of red, green and blue provides a visual after effect of a cube but with yellow replacing blue, pink replacing green and aqua replacing red.  Notably, this produced the same results as the experiment using a prism with a black and white board. 

Two experiments demonstrate the effect of shadow. The first showing a piece of paper with a crease throws two shadows, one being yellow in hue and the other being blue in hue.

Ref: PherSall. (Unknown). schaeffer art: Goethe’s theory of colour. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6MI0FG8Pc4. Last accessed 07/01/2014/.

 Lecture 3.

Goethe looked at phenomenon of sky. i.e. sunset and rainbows.  Also he looked at chemical colour such as you would find in insects, stones, flowers etc.  In one experiment he filled a white cup with yellow liquor and noticed that the deeper the water the stronger the yellow appeared until it became orange.

Ref:  PherSall. (Unknown). Schaeffer art: Goethe’s theory of colour. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnCEEgP9C7I. Last accessed 07/01/2014.

Lecture 4.

Goethe considered too the psychological effect of colour.

Yellow : Gives a warm and pleasant impression.

Blue: Sense of darkness, melancholy and gloomy.

Purple: Colour of awe ‘for the day of judgement’.

Ref: PherSall. (unknown). Schaeffer art: Goethe’s theory of colour. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnCEEgP9C7I. Last accessed 07/01/2014.

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