How We Understand Color

Josef Albers & Interaction of Color



"[Interaction of Color] reverses this order and places practice before theory, which after all, is the conclusion of practice. … Just as the knowledge of acoustics does not make one musical — neither on the productive nor on the appreciative side — so no color system by itself can develop one’s sensitivity for color. This is parallel to the recognition that no theory of composition by itself leads to the production of music, or of art.
Practical exercises demonstrate through color deception (illusion) the relativity and instability of color. And experience teaches that in visual perception there is a discrepancy between physical fact and psychic effect. What counts here — first and last — is not so-called knowledge of so-called facts, but vision — seeing. Seeing here implies Schauen (as in Weltanschauung) and is coupled with fantasy, with imagination" (Albers, 2006).

Josef Albers, an educator and artist, revolutionized what artists were taught about color.  Color is not a fixed idea, it is entirely subjective.  How we view color is dependent on the colors around it, and as the brain tries to process the information sent to it from the eye, it often changes things around.  The Viral phenomenon of the white and gold/black and blue dress from earlier this year illustrated how the brain can be tricked.  The brain interprets the dress as white and gold because it is trying to make up for information the photograph is lacking- context (Corum, 2015).  


The two green squares are the same exact color, but are seen as different because of the adjacent colors (Albers, 2006).

The mixing of paint gives the illusion of transparence.

Another example of transparence

An example of the after image effect, where the brain reflects the image on the left into the identical adjacent box (2006).