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Representative Effects Of Color When Mixed

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Now let us consider the mixed as distinguished from the pure colors. Going back, for a moment, co mixed tones, the first of them that was mentioned was the aspirate. This, as was said, is a whisper, and its characteristic is an absence of any tone whatever. Of course, that which, in the realm of color, corresponds to an absence of tone must be, according to its degree of intensity, black or white, or else some gray quality formed by mixing the two. The whisper, in its forcible form, the analogue of which, in the realm of sight, would be black, indicates apprehension, as in fright; and in its weaker form, the analogue of which, in the realm of sight, would be white, indicates interest, as in the secrecy of a love-scene. In both forms the whisper adds feeling to the tone, which, as a rule, is usually uttered, if not simultaneously with it, at least before or after it. This tone, of course, considered irrespective of the whisper that is joined with it, must resemble either the normal or the orotund. If it resemble the normal, the forcible whisper causes it to have that passive effect of apprehension characterizing the expressions of awe and horror represented in the mixed quality which is termed pectoral. If the tone resemble the orotund, the forcible whisper causes it to have that active effect of apprehension characterizing the expression of hostility represented in the mixed quality which is termed guttural.

In the realm of sight, nothing could be perceived if everything were absolutely black. Black, therefore, as well as white, must always be blended with other shades. When blended thus, the effect of being side by side is much the same as of actual mixture. At a slight distance, we cannot tell whether the appearance is owing to the latter or merely to the fact that two shades happen to be near together. Now bearing this in mind we may say that the effect of black, when blended with the cold colors, corresponds to that of pectoral quality, and, when blended with the warm colors, corresponds to that of guttural quality.

Notice, first, the combinations of black with the cold colors. In such cases the black, of course, must be very prominent, and, merely to render the objects depicted clearly perceptible, it must be offset in some places by cold colors of comparatively light tints. But where light tints are blended with absolute black, there must be some violent contrasts. Violent contrasts of themselves, as shown on page 194, represent excitation. Excitation, however, in connection with blackness,—to go back to what was said, on page 193, of the effects of light from which we have developed those of pigments—is excitation in connection with more or less indistinctness causing perplexity and involving apprehension. At the same time, as this apprehensive excitation is connected with the cold colors, it is passive, or, as one might say, chilling and benumbing, rather than active, or, as one might say, heating and inflaming. For this reason its effects seem appropriately compared to those of awe and horror represented by the pectoral quality. Of course, color alone, without other means of expression, can only approximate a representation of these; but let the outlines justify it, and what hues, mixed with those of the countenance, can make it so ghastly as dark blue and green; or can make the clouds of heaven so unheavenly as very dark blue; or the sod of the earth so unearthly as dark blue-green; or anything so deathlike and appalling as these colors used with excessive contrasts of light and shade? Is it any wonder that it is with these combinations that Gustave Doré produces most of the harrowing effects in his series of pictures illustrating Dante's "Inferno?"

Now let us add black to yellow, orange, or red, either mixing the two or placing them side by side, and notice the effect. As said before, the very dark shades cannot, in painting, be used exclusively. If they be, the out-lines cannot be made clearly perceptible. But to use black in connection with the lighter tints, introduces that variety which, as said on page 194, always increases the excitation of the effect. Warmth, in connection with black, or, as explained in the last paragraph, with apprehensive excitation,—emotive heat causing active resistance to that which is dreaded,—does not this describe, as nearly as anything can, a condition attendant upon hostility such as is represented to the ear by the guttural tone. In the case of the warm colors, too, still more than in that of the cold, nature seems to have enforced the meanings of the combinations so that we shall not mistake them. Yellow and black, orange and black, red and black, or, in place of black, very dark gray, green, blue, or purple, which are allied to black,-is there a particularly venomous insect or beast, or appearance of any kind, from a bee, or snake, or tiger, to the fire and smoke of a conflagration, or the lightning and cloud of a storm, in which we do not detect some presence of these combinations? No wonder, then, that so often in former times, at least, soldiers wore them on their breasts when girded for the contests of the battle-field !

The whisper, in its weaker form, was said to represent not apprehension, but a more or less agreeable degree of interest. Of course, the weaker form of a negation of color, at its extreme, must be represented by white. As applied to tones, there is no separate term of designation for this whisper when added to normal or orotund quality. Elocutionists merely speak of an aspirated normal or orotund, saying that, when aspirated, feeling is added to the effect of each. Let us recall now combinations of white with blue, green, or purple. Is there any difficulty in recognizing how closely the result corresponds to that which is produced by an aspirated normal tone? We have all seen such combinations in summer costumes, as well as in tents and awnings over windows or verandas. In such cases, is there not a more exhilarating effect produced by them than could be produced by white alone? or by one of these colors alone? Yet, at the same time, is not the effect far cooler, and, in this sense, less exhilarating, than is produced by combinations of white with red, orange, or yellow?

In these latter we have, as has been said, that which corresponds to the effect of the aspirated orotund,-the tone used in earnest advocacy or description of some-thing which is felt to be in itself of profound interest. Think of the combinations of white with these warmer colors. Could any language better than that just used designate their peculiar influence? What than they are more exhilarating or entrancing in the decorations of interiors, or in banners and pageants ?-Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture as Representative Arts, XI.


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