Color, Vision, and Our Perception of Art
There was an article in The Times about Claude Monet's loss of color vision due to the development of cataracts in his eyes. He told a friend: "I no longer saw colors with the same intensity. The reds seemed muddy to me, the pinks insipid and the intermediate colors and lower tones escaped me completely." The style that he developed at this time in his life appears to have been largely influenced by this change, according to recent studies illustrating how he most likely would have seen. This incites discussion as to whether Monet really intended to paint in a more abstract manner, bringing an innovative style of painting to the world, or if this style was mainly a product of the deterioration of his sight.
In addition to our visual ability, what we feel about a color also influences how we perceive that color. Children are more attracted by color than form, and childhood memories are often flavored with color, and even when we're not aware of it, these associated feelings about specific colors affect how we perceive them in adulthood.
Our cultural backgrounds and upbringing may also affect our response to colors. For example, the color of mourning in China is white, while in many other cultures it is black; although in recent times these particular stereotypes have become less predominant. Culture, popular fads, and trends can dictate or suggest symbolic meanings to us.
Approximately twenty percent of the visual signals leaving the eye go to the pituitary gland; this is an endocrine gland that secretes hormones regulating homeostasis (the maintenance of a stable, constant condition of the body's internal environment), and also hormones for sexual drive. The color red is a very good example of the direct influence of color; a chemical message is sent to the adrenal medulla, releasing the hormone epinephrine. This causes an alteration in body chemistry, causing more rapid breathing, increase in blood pressure, pulse rate, heartbeat, flow of adrenaline and perspiration. This is a physiological effect on the body, resulting in the persuasion of the human mind to associate the color red with excitement and high energy.
The blend of all these factors is unique to each individual, and it is interesting to consider just how this affects a person's reaction to a work of art. Perception of color can be almost instantaneous in its conveyance of meaning and feeling. If the color of a work of art is appealing to an individual it may influence them to like it, with less importance being placed on its form or subject. Likewise, if the color is unappealing, no matter how well executed a work of art might be, it may still be considered unattractive by the viewer. These differences in perception, happily, allow for great variety in the world of art and its popularity.