My colour and your colour…in the eye of the beholder.

Posted by Ivan Grieve on

I know that colour and images are key to so many artists like me, not least because we strive to observe colour and interpret it. Colour is, let’s face it, a perception or sensation, just like smell or taste, touch or sound. Light of a particular wave length reaches the retina at the back of the eye, then a specialised cell generates a nerve impulse which is whizzed to the brain and hey presto … a colour is perceived. The light reflected from an object is what activates the visual process.


Delving deeper I refer to a brilliant book “The Human Brain- A Guided Tour” by the amazing Susan Greenfield. Greenfield makes several references to colour, one of which is based on Frank Gall a Dr born in Vienna ( arguably the father of phrenology), who suggested that there are 27 character traits with in the brain the bedrocks of personality ; memory of people, attachment and friendship, love of offspring, spatial awareness, sense of tonal relations etc and … sense of colour.


The particular cells sensitive to colour you may know, are cones (rods are for night vision in a some ways), three types of cone take responsibility for the three primary colours red, blue or green. Yes it seems wrong to state green as a primary colour. The reason is this though, when you mix red and green LIGHT together your eye sees yellow. This is called additive colour. Making a mockery of what I thought were the primary colours. A certain wave length of red and green cones in equal numbers hence the perception of yellow.



I have read a little more on colour and find the perception and subjectivity fascinating. I was jogged into this research on noticing how one piece of my work Sharpham Marsh in Winter, could look so different depending on how, when, and with what it was photographed or on what it was reproduced. Taking a picture in a cool northern light lifts the blue etc.

beholder colour cones eye greenfield perception primary colour senses yellow

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