Notebook

Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color

by Philip Ball (2001)

"I believe that in the future, people will start painting pictures in one single color, and nothing else but color." The French artist Yves Klein made this remark in 1954, before embarking on a "monochrome" period in which each work was composed from just a single glorious hue. This adventure culminated in Klein's collaboration with Paris paint retailer Édouard Adam in 1955 to make a new blue paint of unnerving vibrancy. In 1957 Klein launched his manifesto with an exhibition, "Proclamation of the Blue Epoch," that contained eleven paintings in his new blue.

By saying that Yves Klein's monochromatic art was the offspring of chemical technology, I mean something more than that his paint was a modern chemical product. The very concept of this art was technologically inspired. Klein did not just want to show us pure color; he wanted to display the glory of new color, to revel in its materiality. His striking oranges and yellows are synthetic colors, inventions of the twentieth century. Klein's blue was ultramarine, but not the natural, mineral-based ultramarine of the Middle Ages: it was a product of the chemical industry, and Klein and Adam experimented for a year to turn it into a paint with the mesmerizing quality the artist was seeking. By patenting this new color, Klein was not simply protecting his commercial interests but also hallmarking the authenticity of a creative idea. One could say that the patent was part of his art.


The Impressionists and their descendants - van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, Kandinsky - explored the new chromatic dimensions opened up by chemistry with a vitality that has arguably not been equaled since. Their audiences were shocked not only by the breaking of the rules - the deviation from "naturalistic" coloration - but by the sight of colors never before seen on canvas: glowing oranges, velvety purples, vibrant new greens. Van Gogh dispatched his brother to acquire some of the brightest, most striking of the new pigments available and wrought them into disturbing compositions whose strident tones are almost painful to behold. Many people were dumbfounded or outraged by this new visual language: the conservative French painter Jean-Georges Vibert rebuked the Impressionists for painting "only with intense colors."

It was a complaint that echoes back through the ages, to be heard whenever chemistry (or foreign trade, which also broadens a culture's repertoire of materials) has made new or superior colors available to painters. When Titan, Henry James's "prince of colorists," took advantage of having the first pick of the pigments brought to the thriving ports of Venice to cover his canvases with sumptuous reds, blues, pinks, and violets, Michelangelo remarked sniffily that it was a pity the Venetians were not taught to draw better. Pliny bemoaned the influx of bright new pigments from the East to corrupt the austere coloring scheme that Rome inherited from classical Greece: "Now India contributed the ooze of her rivers and the blood of dragons and of elephants."


That the invention and availability of new chemical pigments influenced the use of color in art is indisputable. As art historian Ernst Gombrich says, the artist "cannot transcribe what he sees; he can only translate it into the terms of his medium. He, too, is strictly tied to the range of tones which his medium will yield."

So it is surprising that little attention has been given to the matter of how artists obtained their colors, as opposed to how they used them. This neglect of the material aspect of the artist's craft is perhaps a consequence of a cultural tendency in the West to separate inspiration from substance. Art historian John Gage confesses that "one of the least studied aspects of the history of art is art's tools." Anthea Callen, a specialist on the techniques of the Impressionists, makes a stronger criticism:

Ironically, people who write on art frequently overlook the practical side of their craft, often concentrating solely on stylistic, literary or formal qualities in their discussion of painting. As a result, unnecessary errors and misunderstandings have grown up in art history, only to be reiterated by succeeding generations of writers. Any work of art is determined first and foremost by the materials available to the artist, and by the artist's ability to manipulate those materials. Thus only when the limitations imposed by artists' materials and social conditions are taken fully into account can aesthetic preoccupations, and the place of art in history, be adequately understood.

 

 

moonstone

As ancient as the moon itself, Moonstone holds the power of mystery. Its secrets are locked beneath a pearly veil, and with them, our own hidden truths. Only within its reflected light can we begin to understand what it has to teach us. Moonstone is foremost a talisman of the inward journey, taking one deep into the self to retrieve what is missing, the parts of the soul left behind or forgotten, then brought to light.

Since earliest times, Moonstone has been a tangible connection to the magic of the moon - an amulet of protection for travelers, a gift of lovers for passion, a channel for prophecy, and a path to wisdom. Our ties to the moon are strong. As it waxes and wanes in cyclic perfection, it creates the tides and rhythms of our mother, Earth, and influences our behaviors, emotions and spiritual growth. Moonstone calms and encourages, teaching us the natural rhythms of life.

[Read more: Crystal Vaults]

 

dZi beads : the history of beads

Dzi.jpg

The unique dZi beads, a black-and-white (or dark brown) bead of "etched" or treated agate, is revered in Tibet. To Tibetans and other Himalayan peoples, the dZi is a "precious jewel of supernatural origin" with great power to protect its wearer from disaster. 

Since knowledge of the bead is derived from oral traditions, few beads have provoked more controversy concerning their source, method of manufacture, and even precise definition.

In ancient times, it is said dZi adorned the gods, who discarded them when they became blemished, thus explaining why they are seldom found in perfect condition. 

[Source:   The History of Beads, 2009]

Confucius on the value of Jade

Its gentle, smooth, glossy appearance suggests charity of heart;
Its fine close texture and hardness suggests wisdom;
It is firm and yet does not wound, suggesting duty to one’s neighbor;
It hangs down as though sinking, suggesting ceremony;
Struck, it gives a clear note, long drawn out,
Dying gradually away and suggesting music;
Its flaws does not hide its excellences,
Nor does its excellence hide its flaws, suggesting loyalty;
It gains our confidence, suggesting truth;
Its spirituality is like the bright rainbow,
Suggesting the earth below;
As articles of regalia it suggests exemplification
Of that than which there is nothing in the world of equal value,
And thereby is Tao itself

 

[Source: Ying Yu Jade

  Pendant in the form of a knotted dragon , Eastern Khou dynasty (770-256 B.C.)   [Source:  The Metropolitan Museum of Art ] 

Pendant in the form of a knotted dragon, Eastern Khou dynasty (770-256 B.C.) 

[Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art