Jeff Atherton challenges the perception of color
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012
Updated: Sunday, November 11, 2012 17:11
Color is all about context and perception. People perceive colors differently; therefore, the context of a certain color is changed for each person.
Assistant art professor Jeff Atherton challenged the idea of color and how people perceive it when he gave a lecture Thursday evening to a small crowd of about 20 people at the University Art Museum. The lecture was entitled, “Are We Over the Rainbow?”
Atherton said that when he began to study the perception of color, he was fascinated to learn that there were not any first-order principles.
“I couldn’t find any universals,” he said.
He began his presentation by showing a simple photo of a fire engine. He went on to say that “the fire engine is not red.”
The reason for this is because color, or lack of color, is dependent on the person looking at it.
Atherton showed comparisons of what a human sees in a normal photograph and what a dog sees. Dogs only have two cones in their eyes, so a lot of color information in the magenta range is lost in their vision.
A normal flower looks vastly different in terms of color to a bee. Bees see a yellow flower as white with red in the center. The red acts as a “landing pad” for the bee to gather pollen from.
Atherton said the reason bees see flowers that way and humans do not is because flowers are not necessary for human survival as they are for bee survival.
He ended the lecture with a segment on color constancy, a theory developed by Edwin Land. The reason why a car remains the same color throughout the day, despite changes in sunlight, is because of color constancy.
Atherton said the eye builds a colored world around it. The eye uses context of everything in front of it to judge what color an object is.
“You will only use wavelengths as a last resort,” he said. Otherwise, the eye will compare colors to make judgments.
Land demonstrated this concept by the Mondrian Test, which he named after artist Piet Mondrian because the test used his composition paintings.
Basically, when looking at the painting as a whole, one would see all the true colors used on the canvas. But when one of the colors is completely isolated, red can turn green.
Atherton was not able to actually demonstrate this test but instead presented it in his slideshow. However, at the end of his presentation, he did a similar demonstration that illustrated the point.
He took two separate lighted boards, both with the same colors, only inverted. Both colors appeared identical when seen with black boards with checkered holes in front of them. When taking the boards away, the two colors appeared drastically different from one another.
“Seeing color is all about context,” Atherton said. “Every context matters.”
Atherton’s lecture was the third and final installment of the Color and Cognition series held at the University Art Museum.