Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Image of Thought: Achromatics in O'Keeffe and Beckett

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Image of Thought: Achromatics in O'Keeffe and Beckett

Article excerpt

Chromatics is the study of color, or in modern times what is called the color spectrum. Achromatics is the study of black and white as isolated or independent colors and of their own mixture which produces shades of black and white: grey. Historically, chromatics has received the major attention, and has been of concern to both scientific researchers and those in the arts. Achromatics, in contrast, was virtually ignored until the beginning of the 20th century, and most of this theorizing has focused on pictorial art and on what are thought to be the symbolic or universal properties of black, white and grey. Indeed, much of the critical discussion concerning achromatics has focused on a traditional exegesis in regard to the canvases of relative late-comers such as Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, and Franz Kline.

Drawing from the thought of the contemporary French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, this essay attempts to open a new epistemological space that allows alliances between achromatic painting and achromatic literature to form. In particular, I want to explore the way that achromatic art and literature afford the means to depicting what Deleuze calls "the image of pure thought" - i.e., images that attempt to escape reference and symbolization. Similarly, I wish to invoke Deleuze's use of the idea of strata; a stratum is a particular way of seeing and saying that has become a historical formation, a positivity or fact. Deleuze wishes to cut through established strata: make articulable the visible and make visible the inarticulable. My working examples for this exploration will be the achromatic works of the American artist Georgia O'Keeffe and the Irish writer Samuel Beckett. Before turning specifically to their works, however, I will first begin with an overview of chromatic theory in the history of ideas, and discuss the theoretical implications of the concept of "the image of thought" and its interdisciplinary possibilities for a reading of art and literature.

The role of color theory in the history of ideas and in art in the West since the Renaissance is so intertwined with ideology that the two - color and epistemology - cannot be disjoined. The dominant thought in philosophy and art in the West has been based on the Platonic notion of universal ideas or the Ideal. All periods, in fact, up to the Modern era have privileged the Ideal in beauty and form as the ultimate in artistic expression and esthetic appreciation. Chromatics, too, has been a handmaiden to the Ideal, and has been mainly concerned with how color serves to express the symbolic or universal.

At the same time, however, theories of color emerging from the realm of "science" have had a great impact on the art world, and indeed research in chromatics began with Newton's Opticks (1704) which relied on physics. In 1666 Newton observed refractions of light through a prism; this observation led him to formulate that white light was not simple, but rather a mixture of rays which the prism separated into seven hues: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (he also aligned them to seven planets and the seven diatonic scales). Building on J. H. Lambert's pyramid model, J. C. Le Blon used colorimetry (a technique for measuring and grading the color spectrum) to examine the elementary trichromatic base, and he eventually advanced a theory of primary colors (c. 1730). Ten years after Le Blon published his work in 1756, the English engraver, Morris Harris, produced the first color chart with the primaries in full color. Yet another scientific approach came from the realm of physiology; in 1892 the American physiologist, Christina Ladd-Franklin, expounded her "developmental" theory, arguing that color vision has emerged out of an evolutionary process.

In the arts, a major contributor to color theory was the German Romantic painter, Philipp Otto Runge; his Die Farbenkugel (1810) advanced a decidedly systematic chromatic theory through its development of a "color sphere. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.