19th-Century Insight Into the Psychology of Color and Emotion

by R27 CREATIVELAB on Thursday, 30 August 2012

A time capsule of Goethe's intuition on the roles and manifestations of colors in our lives.

Color is an essential part of how we experience the world, both biologically and culturally. One of the earliest formal explorations of color theory came from an unlikely source -- the German poet, artist, and politician Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in 1810 published Theory of Colours (public library; public domain), his treatise on the nature, function, and psychology of colors. Though the work was dismissed by a large portion of the scientific community, it remained of intense interest to a cohort of prominent philosophers and physicists, including Arthur Schopenhauer, Kurt Gödel, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

One of Goethe's most radical points was a refutation of Newton's ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.

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