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EXPANDING EXPERIENCE WITH COLOR
Common Experience and Color
Seeing more in our perceptions of the world around us is not a problem of innate visual acuity and skills. We all have natural ability to make very fine perceptual discriminations; we already make very fine discriminations on practical matters, although these discriminations are not made consciously. But we miss a lot; we miss a lot because we’re not ready to see what’s before us. We can begin by acknowledging the skills we do have in making fine visual discriminations and presenting ways to transform the unconscious perceptions to the conscious level. From this beginning we can experience our lives as dynamic and engaging, with common daily experience transformed, and we transformed in the process.
Knowledge, conditioning and culture leads us to perceive in certain ways, giving attention to some subjects, shaping how we see subjects, while overlooking other subjects. Practical daily needs require fine discriminations, the discriminations mixed in with other utilitarian input. Among the various subjects unconsciously processed is color. We may say that we don’t understand much about color while, at the same time, very fine perceptual discriminations are made regularly at an unconscious level. Most often these color discriminations are practical, utilitarian, used in the act of recognition, without names for colors or any notion of color seen as color, i.e., color for its own sake. Color can be part of many visual clues that lead us to identify an object or simply identify relevant properties in a subject; this could be choosing fresh fruit, determining one’s health by appearance, selecting home flooring or looking at the sky for weather. We may ask for help in choosing flooring, but we wouldn’t say that color expertise is required to determine one’s health or ripe fruit. These fine discriminations suggests the potential for expanded color intelligence with everyone. Working more consciously with color, exploring understandings of color theory and experiencing color in various contexts will lead to new ways of seeing color and the world around us, both in experiences with nature and with experiences with cultural subjects, viz., fine art paintings and design.
“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” Although overused, such a comment remains a handle for art talk. This statement also reveals much about how we approach art criticism. It is something of a confession that the likes and dislikes defining criticism, however strongly felt, get in the way of new experiences and the development of aesthetic sensibilities. Aesthetic experience can be aided by knowing there is no relationship between our likes and quality in art. We can dislike a painting, for example, and decide that it is a good painting. Further, all of the following propositions are plausible (Ecker and Kaelin):
It is a good painting and I like it.
It is a bad painting and I like it.
It is a good painting and I don’t like it.
It is a bad painting and I don’t like it.
This article, originally published in Occasional Papers (Rowan University, 1993), describes a process by which art talk is practiced with greater clarity. It's emphasizes a distinction between looking at art, on one hand, and theorizing, judging and liking and disliking, on the other. When approaching a work of art, the common responses are in terms of likes, judgments and theories, these responses interfering with and blocking authentic phenomenal experience with art.