Chromophobia

lSorry about all of these snippets lately. I’m trying to run this blog on a reduced-calorie basis — just keepin’ it alive while I’m characteristically busy and exhausted.

I really want to write about my new favorite aesthetics book, Chromophobia by David Batchelor. Here’s a choice quote with his thesis in it:

“Chromophobia manifests itself in the many and varied attempts to purge colour from culture, to devalue colour, to diminish its significance, to deny its complexity. More specifically: this purging of colour is usually accomplished in one of two ways. In the first, colour is made out to be the property of some ‘foreign’ body– usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration.”

I of course have been thinking about his assertions about visual art in terms of verbal art. I recently sent Ron a comment on a post of his that mentioned Rauschenberg somewhat pejoratively — one brief comment showed up from me there, to which he responded, saying, “I don’t hate Rauschenberg, I’m just tired of being disappointed so often. His problem is that he holds back — he almost always ensures that the customer has something “beautiful” to look at, in case they don’t like the ideas”; the comment I sent in response either got lost in cyberspace or he just chose not to publish it. Anyway, I had quoted a bit from this book and mentioned how delightful was the impact of all that messy exuberant color in the Rauschenbergs in one space at the MoMA last year. I mentioned Rauschenberg having studied with Albers and learning how to understand color really intricately and scientifically. We have an interview with him here at Pratt that shows him talking about his red paintings, and how studying with Albers helped him to really explore the possibilities of a color.

I wondered, was Rauschenberg’s idea color itself? Or “beauty”? It seemed like to separate “ideas” from from what the “customer” looked at was a bit of a form/content split. I also wrote, what would have happened had R. not held back? Would he have covered all the creatures in all the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History with found objects and pictures and messy paint and made what was 2D 3D and what was 3D 2D?

I also wrote in my post that I do feel that there are plenty of poets who write to ensure that the reader has something “beautiful” to look at at the expense of ideas. But what’s the difference between “beautiful” and beautiful? To my mind, a definition of beauty (no scare quotes) would have to include elements of the grotesque, the awkward, the kitsch, the hilarious, not to mention “the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological” — which brings us back to Batchelor’s remarks on color.

Chromophobia — you gotta read it — makes many of the same arguments I’ve been making on this blog since its inception, only, of course, much more intelligently and gracefully. I don’t have the book here right now, but will post some more choice quotes this weekend if I have time.

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3 thoughts on “Chromophobia

  1. that looks really interesting.once a woman i worked with (at a fashion catalog) said: “people who wear color are so BRAVE.”i never forgot it because it seemed like such a weird idea to me.color really has a profound affect on my mood. for instance, i can cheer myself up by wearing pink or yellow. white is calming (but i don’t use bleach, so can’t really wear it.) gonna write down this title in my notebook…

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