Monday, April 09, 2007


It's unfortunate that most of the color theorists since Chevreul have been abstract painters rather than representational ones. I like to thumb through my Itten, Albers and Kandinsky color books once in a while but I have to admit that they're not very usefull. They are a lot of fun, though. Here just for the heck of it, are a couple of Kandinsky color theories. Maybe they'll spur you on to make theories of your own.

According to Kandinsky certain colors (above) have an affinity for certain forms. A dull shape like a circle deserves a dull color like blue. A shape with intermediate interest like a square deserves an intermediate color like red. A dynamic, interesting shape like a triangle deserves an enegetic, luminous, psychotic color like yellow.

A hexagon is midway in interest between a square and a triangle so it gets the midway color it deserves, orange. Toilet cover seats get green.

Lines also have an affinity for certain colors. Bold, dynamic lines like diagonals get a bold color like yellow. Less drastic diagonals get a less drastic color, red. Dead lines that are nearly horizontal get a dead color like black. Slightly active lines like verticals get a dull color like blue.
Kandinsky even has a theory about coloring lines according to their centrality in the composition. Lines in the middle get yellow. Sad, unloved lines that hug the edge of the frame should get dull colors.

The same goes for angles. Drastic accute angles get drastic colors, more sedate obtuse angles get bland colors like blue.

Ditto curves. Of course a line usually has both drastic and sedate curves and angles and the color of the line changes accordingly.

Here's all these theories in a single painting. Interesting, huh?


Anonymous said...

I guess I'll have to get this book from the library, because now I'm intrigued...mainly that I don't agree with a single thing Kandinsky says.
I mean, blue a "dull" color? Not on my planet. And circles are far from dull shapes. Huh...yes, I'll have to read this one.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'll have to get this book from the library, because now I'm intrigued...mainly that I don't agree with a single thing Kandinsky says.
I mean, blue a "dull" color? Not on my planet. And circles are far from dull shapes. Huh...yes, I'll have to read this one.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The trouble with theories like this is that they're not just ideas, they're rules/laws made up of opinion.

Can you imagine how dull art would become if everyone followed this color theory?

Anonymous said...

Of course everyones theories are ideas, but they're not all rules/laws.

If you think about it, a lot of traditions are just theories that kinda became rules. How many traditions become dull over time? How many are followed closely just because they make one feel part of the group?

Break the law!

Rant over. :)

Kali Fontecchio said...

What's so bland about blue? I like blue. The blue ocean, blue suede shoes, blue jays, pantone 292 blue, my blue usb wire, the blues, blue bayou, blue eyes etc. Not so bland!!

Andreas said...

What Kali said about blue. I am partial to blue, and my blue eyes.

Maybe I am a heathen, but I don't get modern art and modern fine art, but that painting looks to me like a kindergarten class was let loose with construction paper and safety scissors. It has no appeal to me. Could someone explain the appeal (and why they make the big bucks)?

I thumb though the color theory books every time I go to the book store, but none is as beautiful as the color section in the Andrew Loomis book Creative Illustration. It opens up with the beautiful mermaid painting. I have yet to finish reading that section, as I only have an electronic copy (still searching for an affordable reading copy), and I find it difficult to read large amounts of text on a screen. A book is meant to be curled up with and have it's pages turned.

Andrew Loomis Mermaid

JohnK said...

the scientology of color

Anonymous said...

Irwin Allen loved blue. "If ya wanna please me," he told one art director, "use blue." Irwin Allen is dead now.

Jenny Lerew said...

Yes, Andreas--Loomis' color chapter is fantastic, esp. with the examples. Everyone should seek it out.

(btw that anonymous double-poster is me--I was at another computer and wasn't signed in.)

Anonymous said...

I mean this in a positive way but do you think the guy mightve been autistic or at least had aspergers?

Anonymous said...

Blue is my favourite colour!

Here's a site I did in Grade 9 for a history project, I admit I still like the simple coluor scheme. (Excuse the poor writing and many innaccuracies):

I'm gonna answers Eddie's boxing question in this post to ensure that someone reads it.

>David, Jorge: true, so you really think Ali was over-rated? If all the good fighters were getting old and there was no one first-rate to oppose Ali then that's something to consider. Even so...

Well, I don`t think David was saying Ali was over-rated, just that he moved around alot, (although he was smart, like in his fight with Foreman where he got him tired by staying still)

Cassius Clay is obviously in my top 5, but I think the earlier and later periods get unfairly ignored because...because...I don`t know! Maybe because there was more people watching boxing back then. The boomers control everything, so when they watched boxing most, that`s the period that gets remembered most. Most kdis don`t know who Joe Louis is, and they think Rocky`s last name is Balboa.

Ali didn`t have the sheer power punching of Foreman so he relied on strategy and psychology more, but I like my fighters to shut up and fight. It should begin and end in the ring, not the press conference.

And yes, he`d kill that peabrain, Tyson.

Anonymous said...

I forgot to add, I`m probably biased because I don`t like Ali as a person.

Lester Hunt said...

As arbitrary as his theories sound, I suspect Kandinsky is doing something that he has to do here. How are paintings going to have a valuable sort of meaning if they completely lose their connection with real objects? I would say that triangles seem "dynamic" simply because I associate them with real objects like arrowheads or the "play" symbol on my vcr buttons. But that can't be true if painting is going to be truly abstract. Hence the weird theories about intrinsic properties of shapes and colors.

I.D.R.C. said...

... but I like my fighters to shut up and fight. It should begin and end in the ring, not the press conference.

Wow. Only somebody who was not Black in the 1960's could say something so inobservant. I hate when people abandon true context for an abstract argument.

I.D.R.C. said...

I don't see any universal truth in Kandinsky's theories, but like Feng Shue, he could use them to produce results that I enjoy. I always like to learn about how the artists I like do stuff.

I always wondered how you could produce such compositions without them looking like preschool projects.

Andreas, I cannot explain it to you. I don't have the chops. For me it was love at first sight with Kandinsky. It's not the same response I have to anything that comes out of a Kindergarten.

Chloe Cumming said...

I just finished reading Kandinsky's 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' and I do think he had a little something, a little wisdom and insight, but his colour theories are kind of bonkers. There's some truth to his spiritual searchings, but the way he tranlates them into yellow triangles feels a bit arbitrary.

There is some intuitive sense here of an obscure, sort of personal sort... but it's really not applicable to very much, I find.

And it's very odd that a lot of Bauhaus type weirdo Modernist hundred year old indulgent abstract-painter bonkers ideas are still taught in foundation art courses. They were in mine, basically.

Those old modernist bastards just made it up and dictated it, all quite adolescently reactionary and all very male too.

Chloe Cumming said...

Oh yes, I'm not sure if K was aspergers or anything, but he was definitely synaesthetic, i.e. directly translated musical sensations into visuals and vice versa. I think Klee might have bee too.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we should automatically discount Kandinsky's color theories as they relate to form. Our species (and our ancestral progenitors) lived in an environment with predominantly smooth, curved structures with predominantly cool, subdued colors(trees, leaves, grass, rocks, bodies of water). Therefore, it seems natural for humans to associate shapes with curved edges with browns, blues and greens. Meanwhile, there are very few things in the natural world that are brightly colored and sharply angular. Bright colors and sharp angles are (occasionally) a sign of danger and something to pay attention to.

Whether Kandinsky is ultimately correct in his ideas relating form to color, I approve of comparative art studies and ?aestheticology? (is this a word?)

msmarg said...

This is very interesting Eddie, thank you.

Maybe the right way to look at Kandinsky's theory is to see it as his colour theory for his own work, rather than some universal theory that should be applied to all art.

Isnt it a delicious irony that rebellious abstract art turns out to be controlled by a set of rules so strict that our instictive reaction is rebellion.

Anonymous said...

I am wondering if Kandinsky's color theories may have any ties to possible synaesthesia he might have had... has any one ever suggested such regarding him?

Andreas said...

IDRC, I was reading a passage again today from Richard Williams Animator's Survival Kit book that rings true with how I feel.

"One of the things I love about animation is that you have to be specific. If a drawing is out of place it's just wrong - clearly wrong- as opposed to "Art" or "Fine Art" where everything these days is amorphous and subjective."

I hated color and shape exercises where you have a word and you make an arrangement of shapes with different colors to express that feeling. It said nothing to me in the end. It became a mindless color grab and shape creation. I do like using shape and color in a representational sense, or patterns, as opposed to a series of amorphous blobs.

Lester Hunt said...

I have to admit I am speaking in complete ignorance of Kandinsky's theory, but (cool huh? I'm ignorant of the subject, but I'm going to say something about it anyway! I love the internet!) --

Eric Dotseth: What you are saying makes perfect sense to me. Colors do have associations because of our human interactions with the world. But it sounds like Kandinsky wants to free painting from its association with the world. It will become its own world. So this kind of meaningfulness doesn't sound like the kind of thing he needs.

William said...

He had some interesting theories but taken objectively as art, by someone not studying the same genre or striving to understand the same thing, I'm afraid he stops short. It becomes an interesting jumbling of theories without a application of what should be an artist's goal: art and truth.

I'm glad Chloe mentioned Klee. I love Klee. Lord, do I love me some Klee.

Anonymous said...

Hey! I'm studying art at sixth from and I chose to look at both Kandinsky and Klee as I liked the influence music had on their work and synthaesia (and yes, Klee had it too!). I then began to discover all these colour theories of Kandinsky's and as part of my investigation began to explore them!
It's very interesting to note that some of his theories are fairly obvious, and I found this when talking to fellow students, some shapes and colours are immediately related to each other by most people, often their related sound is too. However there are a lot that aren't, many of which really make no sense! I have to say I don't really like Kandinsky but he is fascinating and his theories are perhaps good to look at whilst keeping hold of your own opinions.

And, I agree, Klee's work is brilliant!

Anonymous said...

There is a language barrier in effect here.

Replace "bland" or "dull" with "sedate" or "subdued."

Of the primary colors, blue is the most subdued and has the lowest temperature. Arguing that it isn't is simply ignoring the science behind color impression on the eye.

Likewise of the primary shapes, a circle has the least amount of surface tension due to a lack of vertices.

You could, for instance, arrange your color to line relationship in the exact opposite manner. But that would still be referring to this elegant theory whichis simple science. Don't overthink things too much in an attempt to refute parallels that are provided to us by nature.

These were the rules to modern design and art. Breaking the rules places you squarely out of that era of design, which I hope we have all accomplished by now.

The lesson to be learned is that there is a correspondence between form, line and color.

Regarding Kandinsky's "synaesthesia" I believe that's attempting to diagnose a condition after the fact. All of his practices were theorized out and utilised by the various bauhaus masters, proven as much as you can prove anything.

In the end, if you are having so much trouble with accepting this theory feel free to posit your own along these lines. But do not naysay the cornerstone of shape/color relationship without offering something in return.

Jam-S said...

I've recently read Kandinsky's books and I have a couple things to offer as well as a couple questions I hope Ed will answer.

First, I think Kandinsky was not advocating art should be governed by rules. His books 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' and 'Point, Line to Plane', are glimpses into the mind of an abstract expressionist. Moreover, it offers a contrast to painters of the past and specifically the Impressionists.

Kandinsky felt art often lacked an inner dynamic emotion, the paintings did not involve the viewer (the difference between viewing a city street from behind a pane of glass and actually walking down the city's sidewalk).

Kandinsky develops a map legend, explaining the purpose for acute angles and curves. His color theory, as Ed mentions, is different from his Bauhaus contemporaries Itten or Albers.

I don't feel Kandinsky feels blue is a dull color in that it has no life in it. Quite the contrary. Kandinksy feels blue is a very spiritual color, one that has mystical properties and is used very frequently throughout his pieces. No, blue is a dull color because it is less in intensity than yellow, which is as close as one can get to white.

I've read that Itten's color theory, and to a lesser extent, Albers' color theory is not the best thing since sliced bread. I've read a few criticisms of Itten, hardly any mention of Albers. In academia, Albers and Itten is treated as the gospel. Both their theories are treated as "it", when I feel there are better color theorists out there (Birren, Chevreul). I don't trust such blind faith and admiration. I'd like to know more about this underlying criticism that I hear almost nothing about.

Anonymous said...

I think that the brain just works in a way that associates things, so shapes will relate to different colours and vice versa. People will disagree with Kandinsky because they see things differently and have different associations. If you shut your eyes and imagine any shape what colour is it?

Unknown said...

There definitely is a connection between form and color, there are connections of self similarity throughout the universe, Kandinsky was putting effort in trying to understand the way we are effected by color and form through art. Color has psychological and physiognomic effects on the mind and body. Form also affects what we feel, hence graphic design. Personally, I am impressed with his observations. What insights do you non believers have into color and form.

Anonymous said...

that orange shape is a pentagon not a hexaon RETARD

Anonymous said...

Kandinsky did not regard his theories as RULES or laws that anyone was required to follow, not even himself. The process of creating the painting had its own internal requirements. I recommend an excellent short film "Wassily Kandinsky:Invisible Shapes" that explains his progression as an artist and relates his theories to a specific work.

The goal of art, he thought, was direct communication with the viewer without the mediation of conventional language or objects.

Anonymous said...

I don't think I'd describe Kandinsky's thoughts on blue as its being a "dull" color. Maybe you should try a different translation.

Anonymous said...

im pretty sure that this man had synaesthesia. Its a birth disease that is an effect on the brain which causes the sufferer to mix up their senses. In this case Wassily mixed up his touch and smell, and his sight and hearing. He heard colours and saw sound. Weird aii

Anonymous said...

I just don't agree with this theory I learn this break rules colours are everywhere and there what you make of them.

Anonymous said...

Kandinsky had synaesthesia

Unknown said...

There's an experiment that seems to confirm some of Kandinsky's ideas about colors and angles:;jsessionid=7oqno1ohd3ogi.x-brill-live-02