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Harmony Of Color

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Sound-waves are comparatively large. Color-waves are exceedingly small. . . . According to Le Conte in his "Sight," there are in the center of the retina, in a space not larger than one tenth of an inch square, no less than a million cones that a wave can influence. . . . As is known, too, all these are so connected with their surroundings, as Foster says, by a "basket-work" or "sponge-work," that they are apparently capable of vibratory motion. If their minute vibrations, as affected by movements in the ether, may be supposed to influence the whole retina in any degree, how can they do so except as one set of waves may be supposed to influence the whole surface of a sea? On the same sea there may be breezes causing waves differing, as these vibrations do, in intensity, in rate, and in shape. But, in case these differences were far apart, and produced by very gradual changes from one form to another, there might be, to an eye capable of perceiving the whole surface at once, no appearance whatever of inharmonious action. It needs to be added, however, that, within the narrow limits of a picture, it is impossible for any colors to be very widely separated, and, not only so, but that, even if they could be, the eye, in shifting attention from one point to another while examining them, would constantly be bringing them into still closer proximity, in fact necessitating often the perception of all the colors on the canvas by exactly the same part of the retina.

These latter conditions, taken in connection with those mentioned on page 349, will show us that, in considering the harmony of color, there are two main questions to be discussed: first, the selection and arrangement of colors with reference to their general effects in a painting considered as a whole, corresponding to the selection in music of a key-note, involving that of the particular scale and chords that go with it; and, second, the selection and arrangement of colors with reference to their special effects when placed side by side, together with the ways of sufficiently separating and yet connecting them in cases in which placing them side by side would produce discord. This phase of harmony corresponds to what in music is termed modulation or transition from one key to another. The first of these questions will naturally be discussed while considering the methods in the chart (see page 89 of "An Art-Philosopher's Cabinet") preceding consonance, and the second while considering consonance and the methods following it.—Idem, XX.

Some may suppose that, in poetry, there are no effects corresponding to those of musical harmony. But this is not so. Inasmuch as poetry uses words, the articulation of these renders them more clearly distinguishable from one another than are musical notes; and there is not the same necessity, as in the latter, for merely tonal distinctions of quality and pitch. But science has ascertained that in addition to the pitch on which a vowel or a consonant is apparently sounded, it has, at least, one partial tone peculiar to itself, which tone is always at the same pitch. For this reason, alliteration, assonance, and rhyme all involve the use of like pitch; consecutive syllables produce different consecutive degrees .of pitch, i. e., melodies, or what are termed tunes of verse; and every syllable containing a vowel and a consonant, like an, for instance, contains two tones that may or may not harmonize. For these reasons, the words of poetry, though in a very subtle, but, at the same time, suggestive way, fulfil the same methods as those of musical harmony. See the author's "Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music," Chapters V. to XII.—The Essentials of "Aesthetics, XVII.

It is not true, therefore, that, in arranging words, all that is necessary is to put them together grammatically, and in such a way as to indicate their sense. To produce satisfactory poetic effects either upon the mind or ear, they must be arranged so that their sounds shall occur in a certain order.—Rhythm and Harmony in Poetry and Music, vii.

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