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Color

By Tim Sunderman

June 2009                                                                                                                                                           Pg 1
        
There was a time when I was convinced that color was the highest form of expression in this life. It is at once engaging and elusive. How often we are captured by the colors of a sunset, and who does not stop to look at a rainbow? These are colors in their purest forms and they affect us in ways beyond mere diversion or amusement. Color comprises so much of our moment-by-moment experience. An enormous proportion of our nervous energy is deployed to our vision ― perceiving light, analyzing it and reacting to it, yet we so seldom give thought to what color is.
 
Physically, color is that one small area of the electromagnetic spectrum of energy between infrared (heat) and the higher range of ultraviolet (tanning rays). This is the most abundant energy range emanating from the sun, and so it makes sense that we, as organic beings, would develop sensors to adapt to that range.
 
But that does not describe our first-hand experience of color. It is more accurate to say that color is our subjective reaction to those specific frequencies of light. Color does not travel through the air, it is formed in the mind. In my own experience, once I looked between a thin space between the curtains to see a bird in the backyard. But the space was so thin that I could only see through with one eye at a time. My left eye saw the grass in the yard to the yellow side of green and my right eye perceived the grass to the blue side of green. So my own subjective reaction to the same light differed from eye to eye.
 
Recent studies have found that vision is sent to at least thirty-two separate areas of the brain for processing ― some for motion, some for shape recognition, some for color, among others. But additional studies have shown that color stimulates, and is processed by the endocrine glands, our hormone producing glands. Some have called these glands the centers of our higher awareness. In this way, color is sensed by the whole body. Red stimulates adrenaline, green stimulates the thymus gland and the auto-immune system, blue affects the thyroid. These are body perceptions that extend beyond our typical assumptions about our senses. And as complex as the process is by which we take color in, our bodies reflect the most extraordinary color in nature. Of this I am certain. I am not simply speaking of all living creatures. More so than the relative opacity of fur, feather, and scales, human skin is transparent. Light passes about an eighth of an inch (.3 cm) under the skin and then reflects outward. It is as though we are lit from the inside. We are literally luminous beings. And the colors that emanate from us encompass the spectrum.
 
My last semester in art school was the culmination of my years of studying figure painting and my focused attempts to understand color to the point that I was certain that color was the purest metaphor of our living experience. The description of anger as red, sadness as blue, and fear as yellow are germane, but only caricature-like metaphors when directly experiencing the subtleties of color and emotion.
 
 
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