Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Living color

Sunday morning was a study in gray. A flat, dove-color sky was reflected in the lake, which was perfectly still. Staring at the water gave me a sense of being suspended in a void. Not an unpleasant sensation, but it had the odd effect of snatching my thoughts. I felt as I sometimes do just before I fall asleep--that my brain was still ticking away, cataloging perceptions, but none of the data was making its way to consciousness. I just stood a while and let myself not think. There was no sound except a crow complaining in the distance, and a little rustling of leaves by the squirrels, who never seem to take a break.

Olfacta commented on another post about the minimalist beauty of the Southern winter landscape, with its “million variations on neutral grays and browns”—a perfect description. I was thinking about her phrase as I walked along the trail away from the lake, when a poppy-bright cardinal flitted by me. A little further on I walked by a patch of moss, brilliant green. Those islands of color against the drab forest thrilled me. I don’t mean that they were merely pleasant or pretty—they thrilled me. A little jolt of happiness hit me. My heart beat faster, and I could feel my shoulders relax, my face soften into a slight smile.

I don’t usually think of myself as someone who is acutely sensitive to color. Nature seems to have blessed me with better than average senses of smell and hearing, and evened the score by giving me very weak eyes. My sense of sight started letting me down in childhood, so I have always tended to be a little less emotionally attached to visual pleasures, compared to the ones that come by other routes.

So when I encountered the bird and the moss, it was a mild shock to feel the joy of color so strongly. For just an instant I forgot myself, overwhelmed by the power of sensation. It mirrored the reverie by the gray lake, when the emptiness sucked away my thoughts. The color filled me with itself.

Some fun links:

An explanation of how color vision works

An interesting article about the consequences of color vision

A little visual trick

Concert of Birds, Frans Snyders (1579-1657)


Olfacta said...

Hi Maria -- I'm happy my phrase about the Southern winter landscape stayed with you. Are you a painter? Gray is all colors together, just combined differently. Color theory is so interesting, so similar I think, to perfumery. Such a beautiful world.

BitterGrace said...

That's a really interesting point about color theory and perfumery. It would never have occurred to me, which should answer your question about whether I am a painter ;-)

I am married to the son of 2 visual artists (dad a painter/photographer, mom a craft jeweler and metalsmith.) Dave spent his childhood being dragged through art galleries on 2 continents, so he's a complete art junkie, though his own creative medium is music. I think whatever sensitivity I have to art is largely due to 20+ years of living with him.