Wednesday, October 12, 2011

ITTEN: The Elements of Color


He who wants to become a master of color must see, feel, and experience each individual color in its many endless combinations with all other colors. Colors must have a mystical capacity for spiritual expression, without being tied to objects.

The laws of design need not imprison, it can liberate from indecision and vacillating perceptions... As the tortoise draws its limbs into its shell at need, so the artist reserves his scientific principles when working intuitively. But would it be better for the tortoise to have no legs?


Color is life; for a world without colors appears to us as dead. Colors are primordial ideas, children of aboriginal colorless light and its counterpart, colorless darkness. As flame begets light, so light engenders colors. Colors are the children of light, and light is their mother. Light, that first phenomenon of the world, reveals to us the spirit and living soul of the world through colors.

If color is the chief vehicle of expression, composition must begin with color areas, and these will determine the lines. He who first draws lines and then adds color will never succeed in producing a clear, intense color effect. Colors have dimensions and directionality of their own, and delineate areas in their own way.


Unless our color names correspond to precise ideas, no useful discussion of colors is possible. I must see my twelve tones as precisely as a musician hears the twelve tones of his chromatic scale... Delacroix kept a color circle mounted on a wall of his studio, each color labeled with possible combinations. Delacroix, rather than Cezanne, is the founder of the tendency, among modern artists, to construct works upon logical, objective color principles, so achieving a heightened degree of order and truth.


For the solution of many problems, however, there are objective considerations that outweigh subjective preferences. Thus a meat market may be decorated in light green and blue-green tones, so that the various meats will appear fresher and redder. If a commercial artist were to design a package of coffee bearing yellow and white stripes, or one with blue polkadots for spaghetti, he would be wrong because these form and color features are in conflict with the theme. Accordingly, gardeners are daily concerned with important problems of form and color.... It would be wrong to plant blue larkspur against a brown wooden fence, or yellow flowers in front of a white stone wall, because these backgrounds would detract from the color effect.

— Johannes Itten, The Elements of Color (1961)
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