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5 - Goethe's Theory of Color


Brain Pickings has a great bit of coverage highlighting this phenomenal work from German poet and philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Theory of Colours.

Leave it to an artist and poet to contend the prevailing thoughts on light and color (Newtonian at the time) with a potent mix of what would now be seen as cognitive psychology, perceptual reasoning and poetry.

It is his descriptions of the psychological impact of color that is most arresting. Here are just a few samples. And a link to greater details on Brain Pickings.


As no colour can be considered as stationary, so we can very easily augment yellow into reddish by condensing or darkening it. The colour increases in energy, and appears in red-yellow more powerful and splendid.

All that we have said of yellow is applicable here, in a higher degree. The red-yellow gives an impression of warmth and gladness, since it represents the hue of the intenser glow of fire.

This unquiet feeling increases as the hue progresses, and it may be safely assumed, that a carpet of a perfectly pure deep blue-red would be intolerable. On this account, when it is used for dress, ribbons, or other ornaments, it is employed in a very attenuated and light state, and thus displays its character as above defined, in a peculiarly attractive manner.

As the higher dignitaries of the church have appropriated this unquiet colour to themselves, we may venture to say that it unceasingly aspires to the cardinal’s red through the restless degrees of a still impatient progression.

4 - Macro Photos

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