Color Chart

Color Chart

The word “orange” was not used to describe color until the 16th century. The color was commonly referred to as “yellow-red” or “red-yellow” before the English-speaking world was exposed to the fruit. Color is intangible; it only exists in language and has to encompass individual perspectives. For example, studies have shown that, due to subtle differences in genetic makeup, there is a nearly infinite number of ways to see red alone. Color also carries the weight of history. As a result, meaning can change when seen through a contemporary lens. In the following selection of works, viewers are invited to reflect on the different ways artists tackle color. Some use it to their advantage while others omit to highlight form, line, and texture.

Image depicts a black two-handled vase with three orange figures.

Color signatures

Between 7th– 3rd century BCE, Greek potters predominantly worked in one of two techniques, black-figure pottery followed by red-figure pottery. These two techniques defined a period when mythical stories were depicted and artists—or groups of artists—were identified by their distinct styles.
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Image depicts a painting bifurcated along the vertical axis. The left side has a black background, with the word "moon" in cursive and several multicolored circles interconnected with white lines. The right side is on a white background with the word "Sun" in orange cursive script at the bottom. There are several multicolored circles interconnected with black lines.

Color as subject

In the twentieth century, several artists focused on color above everything else.
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Image of a white sculpture of a bearded man. His nose is chipped away.

Absence of color

From the Renaissance to the 20th century, statues from ancient Greece and Rome were widely believed to be intentionally white. It wasn’t until after scientists and archaeologist discovered small amounts of pigment that they concluded these works were brightly colored. It changed people’s perception of the ancient world and future scholarship.
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Image of the Madonna with child in her lap. The image is full of bright reds and golds.

Color as iconography

Cultures around the world have always inscribed significance to colors. They can stand in for intangible qualities like status, purity, divinity, or be trademarked like Yves Klein’s blue.
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