Art is: Book exploring color trends leads to surprising wealth of new knowledge

Published 9:00 am Saturday, November 18, 2017

Art is by Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, 226 W. Clark St. in Albert Lea.

I keep telling myself that I don’t need any more books. But, I don’t hear the message. My last purchase is a treasure called “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair. It was so much fun to read, and I’d like to share a little bit of it with you.

Bev Jackson Cotter

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First of all, I’ve always taken color for granted. In grade school we learned about the primary colors — red, yellow, blue and the secondary colors — orange, green, purple. We learned that if you mixed them a little, you would get various shades, and if you mixed too much, you would get the color of mud. Then when I started taking art classes in college, I learned about light wavelengths and how they affected colors and then some exciting names like cadmium red and hooker’s green and sepia and chrome yellow. Wow!

Then, of course there are the magical names of colors of lipstick and nail polish – velvet plum, rose quartz, frostiest mauve and classic aura. When I was young I remember thinking how much fun it would be to go to work every day and sit at my desk thinking up names for makeup colors. What a neat job that would be.

The funny part of it was, I never wondered just where these colors came from or how various colors have affected lives, and how anyone, thousands of years ago, was able to find just the right blend of pigments and oils to make a color that would last for millennia.

“The Secret Lives of Color” gave me answers to some questions I didn’t know I had.

For example — For hundreds of years, the color of the clothes you wore determined your status in society. From Japan to Greece to Europe, peasants were limited to dull, earthy colors and only the upper classes could wear bright reds.

There is evidence that white was manufactured in Anatolia, near today’s Turkey, as early as 2300 B.C. Strips of lead were placed in a clay pot with two compartments. The other side contained vinegar. The pot was stored in a shed surrounded by animal dung for thirty days.

The chemical reaction produced a white puffy layer that was powdered and sold as pigment.

Even though in later years there were warnings of the dangers of the lead component, women used a mixture as a makeup base. Maria, the Countess of Coventry, England, using this makeup to retain her youthful appearance, died in 1760 at the age of 27.

A byproduct of the lead white is red produced by cooking and continuous stirring. Red has a fascinating story.

Some fun facts:

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Research shows that a waitress who wears red receives a substantially higher amount of tips than a waitress wearing another color.

When the remains of a family of Neanderthals dating back 50,000 years were discovered in Spain in 1994, there was enough evidence to prove that two of the family members had bright red hair.

A 2007 study showed that students who used test booklets with red covers performed worse than students whose booklets had green or black covers.

When white and red are blended, you get a variety of pink hues. Tests have shown some interesting results.

In the 1970s, when there was a major increase in drug use and violent crimes, A. G. Schauss published his color test results in a journal of psychiatry. He found that exposing young men to the color pink affected their attitudes and reduced their strength. As a result of this study, the U.S. Naval Correctional Center in Seattle turned one of their cells a Pepto-Bismol shade, painting the walls, ceiling and ironwork. Prior to the painting, violence had been a “whale of a problem.” In the following six months, there were no incidents.

The Kuiper Youth Center in San Bernardino, California, reported similar results.

I found “The Secret Lives of Color” to be fascinating reading. I could do a column on almost every one of the basic colors we use today, but I won’t. I hope you enjoyed the article.