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Reflections now and then

The Intellect of Color

Exerpts from a thread I responded to at an internet forum

The originator of this thread proposed that color could have intellectual values as opposed to emotional, especially in the Western context. My response, as follows...

I am not a biggie on western philosophers. But I think it was Immanuel Kant who first proposed that one needs to distill aesthetic response from the emotional response (of viewing a work of art). He probably meant that emotions - awe, hatred, lust, nationalism, racism, idealism etc. etc. detracts from a fuller appreciation of the work (I believe we are discussing paintings here, at least I am). Hence, by extension, it could be assumed that the "purest" work of art  will be free of passion and elicit a purely "intellectual or aesthetic" response. Roccoco is out, Baroque is out. I say Baroque because you specifically mentioned "...a painting by a master of color appeal to the intellect as well as emotions?" Peter Paul Rubens - could it be him?

I think Hegel developed this further and proposed "newness" as the surest indicator of quality in art (as if every human being is not unique enough by default), and the likes of Roger Fry, Clement Greenberg and today's Dantos further "intellectualized" art by proposing abolition of sentiment and emphasizing the role of method over content. GreenBerg paradoxically, promoted Jack the Dripper's "abstract expressionism", as if it is somehow valid to express emotions through "spontaneous" paint drips and brush marks, and not through skillfully and imaginatively rendered imagery.

Well, that was what they believed (or believes), and none of them were (are) known for their paintings. And Modernism has died long ago. Even Postmodernism (which I believe, climaxed in the 90s) is being threatened by monolithic, radical ideologies springing up from disparate corners of the globe (Neo-Mod? Retro-Mod?). Neo-pop and Post conceptual have entered the restless vocabulary of the Art Police. In such a scenario, a discourse on the intellectual vs emotional qualities of color and the inherent slant on the latter being somewhat inferior could read dreadfully retro and elitist. But I believe in 'liberal' postmodernism (where irony co-exists with sentiment and passion) which certainly validates such discourse.

"Move your blooming arse!" - famous dialogue in an old classic I was watching the other day (My Fair Lady: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn) where the urban rustic caused a serious cardiac flutter in a group of socialites by uttering those 'unutterables' during a horse race. She dared to show feelings! I am not sure if intellect and emotion are as far apart as they were made out to be. Also, whether a purely (if such a thing is possible!) aesthetic response is without an emotional content. If I am somehow pleased by a painting it must have triggered the reward center in my brain, which makes me return (to the work) again and again. And if I am unmoved and still claim to like the work from an "intellectual" aspect, I  do not know who I am trying to fool.

I think what we ought to discuss are degrees of emotional response. I have known people to almost faint at the sight of the color red, and certainly on viewing blood. On the other hand, an obscure shade of teal - tinted gray could perhaps be soothing to frayed nerves. So, will that be an intellectual appreciation? Probably not. I think you have made a perfectly logical point, perhaps a tad ill-defined (intellectual vs emotional). Discovering the subtle nuances of the interplay of color in a master's work needs some application (cerebration?), but the reward often justifies the effort. Contentment is such a pleasurable emotion.


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