Is the “red” you see the same as the “red” I see?: The Experience of Color in Art

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Color is a significant part of how we view our world. Perhaps most noticeably, it impacts how we view art. An artist’s color choices can dictate the mood of an artwork, its appeal to art collectors, its neighbors in a gallery, and its impression on its viewers. Color as a concept is easily understood when we select examples in the world around us, but it is much harder to define when we think about it abstractly either as light rays bouncing off an object or as something inherent in a material. Art historians, scientists, philosophers, artists, and many others have defined color for centuries – in varying ways and for various purposes. Close looking at a few paintings and objects from the VMFA’s collection can facilitate a discussion of how we experience color, the factors that contribute to it, and the many differing ways that it has been defined. Students will learn about color, the history of color in art, and discuss how their subjective experiences of color may or may not differ from those of their peers.