Reub's journey

06 May 2012

Color without light

 I was disappointed in myself last night when I stepped outside to look at the Super Moon of 2012: the year's biggest (14% larger) and brightest (30% brighter). The moon...well... looked just as amazing as ever. Magical and crazy-close like always. In the hazy dark night sky it did light up the oak tree, as though the beautiful moon were briefly entangled in a spider web. But if it was a bigger or brighter moon, I couldn't really say, and it doesn't really matter.

 Meanwhile at school I am having a discussion about color with my youngest students. They gape at me when I say "Without light there is no color..."

The rhododendrons in our yard are slowly emerging. When they come out fully, they are not subtle.
 I guess that without light there is no sight, period. But this brings up the philosophical question of "If it cannot be seen,  does it exist?"

Female ponderosa pine
 You know, they never argue with me, and I wish they would. 

 Because I know there is color without light. It's there.

 Food for thought.


  1. you sound just like the 'if a tree falls in a forest' question. :)

  2. Suggesting that nothing exists outside of our frame of reference is pure human arrogance, don't you think?

  3. Yes, the question of the existence of something if we cannot see it, here it or smell it. I wish students were more critical of their teachers and asked questions as well.

  4. I tried for the moon on Sat but it was cloudy. :( THen, last night I forgot so I don't know if it was visible or not.

  5. Oh it's there it's just whether or not we can perceive it. like everything else.

  6. twg: It is like the proverbial tree. I wonder if there is a similar analogy to the sense of touch?

    ER: I do think so. It is hard to go on information other than our own frame of reference, though.

    Laoch: I had to look up Heisenberg in order to respond: the principle of uncertainty. It seems as if quantum physics and art are related.

    Tabor: How quickly I would cave if they only questioned this.

    Rebecca: Oh darn; I know you would have gotten an awesome picture. Did you get some rain? Maybe it's further south of PA that is so dry.

    Ellen: I often think how woefully inadequate my perceptions are. How amazing to have the sight of a hawk and the nose of a dog.

  7. What a beautiful post. There is definitely color out there, light or no light. I'm with you.

  8. I like thinking there is color, we just don't perceive it without light. My second graders argue with me all the time - it makes for much more interesting conversations ;)

  9. My students and I have been arguing this question in terms of sound and hearing. Where and what is sound? Is it in the ear or in the air or at the source? Regarding your question about touch: I think painting (and oil painting in particular) gives us a good opportunity to touch and hear things that do not actually exist, yet we perceive the feel of objects and hear a scene unfold through our eyes. I know you will miss teaching. I will miss you teaching too, Kerry.

  10. Thank you Dan! I just noticed your comment. I hadn't thought about sound and the arguments that could be made. You are perceptive. I'm interested in your comment about oil painting. I feel that way about watercolor, too, although less so about acrylic.

    I will miss teaching because I will miss these unique conversations with large groups of kids who are going through changes in their lives. But then again, there will be people out there (like you) who will do a better job.

  11. So here is a different take on whether or not there "is" color when there is no light. Oliver Sacks, in the book Musicophilia, reviews research on how our brains co-produce music with external music makers. That is, what we experience as music is not just some pleasant noise drifting into our ears to be passively consumed, but rather we are active participants, along with the external stimulus, in co-creating the experience. I don't find this to be an arrogant human-centric view at all. It strikes me as a beautiful relationship. I wonder if our experience of color, form, pattern and other visual sensations is similarly a collaborative project with the rest of the world.


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