The black Model T? The black telephone? The white operating theater? The white cube?
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The black Model T? The black telephone? The white operating theater? The white cube? White paper? Why the determination of "serious" newspapers to be the last to welcome color? Of "sophisticated" parties to be black-tieor white-tie?
Why blue funk, yellow journalism, red alert? Of "sophisticated" parties to be black-tie—or white-tie? Why do decorators discard dust jackets and have the library rebound in matching leather? Why do architecture students, a particolored bunch on matriculation, depart in the dark uniform of their profession? Why is analytic cubism so drab? Though he addresses only some of these questions directly, British art writer David Batchelor implies that the answer to all is "chromophobia," a deeply ingrained Western prejudice, dating back to antiquity, by which color is denigrated and suppressed.
In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration. Colour is dangerous, or it is trivial, or it is both. It is typical of prejudices to conflate the sinister and the superficial.
Its language shapes our metaphors, dis colors our speech, and sways our behaviors. And why is it that the thing actually seems to be black, not just colored black? And why would a red Panton chair seem to me more chair than red? Batchelor would place the answer in the age-old opposition of form and color, most visibly inscribed in the Renaissance grudge match of "disegno versus colore: drawing versus coloring-in.
Otherwise painting speeds to its ruin: it will fall through colour just as mankind fell through Eve. When the meter goes dark, the owl turns to purse-snatching so that it might once again be illumined. He, too, has fallen, has been infected by color, within and without, has even had his morals corrupted by color; only he has fallen into grace, not from it. On those occasions when colour is given a positive value, what is most striking is how its chromophobic image—as feminine, oriental, cosmetic, infantile, vulgar, narcotic and so on—is, for the most part, not blocked, stopped and turned around.
Rather the opposite: in chromophilic accounts, this process is usually both continued and accelerated.
Colour remains other; in fact, it often becomes more other than before. More dangerous, more disruptive, more excessive Chromophobia is perhaps only chromophilia without the colour. But suffice it to say that the book speaks to but a specific case of a general intellectual malady, one whereby morals and aesthetics are confounded. In the course of awakening susceptible readers to the full spectrum of visual experience, Batchelor arms them with the skepticism appropriate to discerning whether a purported virtue is simply a self-imposed poverty in disguise.
CP Afterthought: cf.