Light is an interesting subject. Without it, there is no colour and no way of seeing. Sunlight, or an approximation of it, is essential to plant germination and growth and thus to human life. Light is the visible evidence of energy. Its associated heat causes evaporation that becomes rain to keep plants growing and enables us to hydrate. Without light, we could not identify things, people or even ourselves.
The 19th century saw both scientists and artists developing a fascination with the theory behind colour and light. In their attempts to portray what the eye really registers, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists employed ever more scientific methods to juxtapose colour and cause the eye to see things differently. Michel Eugene Chevreul’s book, The Law of Simultaneous Colour Contrast (1839), influenced artists such as Delacroix who employed complementary colours to enliven his images. Monet, painting the same object at many different times of day to observe the changes effected by light, yet employed the theory of complementary hues to give intensity of colour. Cezanne’s many depictions of his favourite mountain exemplify these pseudo-scientific applications and Seurat’s and the Divisionists’ placing of dots of pure colour to coalesce in the viewer’s eye is directly attributable to a simplified understanding of Chevreul’s theory.
One colour, viewed beside another, is changed in intensity, hue or tone. I use a slider of green threaded through three swatches of colour to illustrate just how different the same green can look when juxtaposed with complementary or analogous hues. When we first had our conservatory, I tried taking photographs in there, forgetting that we had tinted glass! After several attempts to get an image true to its colours, I realised that the tint, although not noticeable to my eye, affected the photographic reproduction. Similarly, only a day-light simulating bulb will illuminate a painting in its true colours.
In much the same way as light affects colour, colour affects mood. We experience this phenomenon every time the sun comes out and colours warm up. It makes us feel better. There is more energy in the air when the sun shines! A room painted blue feels cooler than the same room with yellow walls. Yet the temperature is actually the same. Which brings me back to truth.
‘Let’s shed some light on it’ is a familiar expression meaning to explain the truth about something. Yet the light one individual casts on a subject might be at odds with that of another. Just as the appearance of Monet’s haystacks changed as the angle of the light changed, so ‘light’ being cast from my angle may produce a different ‘take’ from that emanating from your viewpoint. Which is true?
In all probability, they both are, each reflecting a different aspect of the truth about that topic or object. Unfortunately, we seldom take this into account when assessing the opinions of others and contention ensues. I have been so guilty of this for most of my life. it has taken me seven decades to understand that there are other views than my own that are, or at least, may be, equally valid!
When designing an image we consider forms, tones, hues, attempting to arrange them into an harmonious composition. We try to balance the dark areas against the light, knowing the one will make the other stronger. A balanced view, like a balanced painting, is a harmonising view. Allowing others’ ideas to have some validity as well as, or in spite of, our own is the way to a life filled with light. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way:
A friend had an appointment to have a minor operation the other day but when she got in to see the Registrar she was told she had been sent to the wrong doctor and needed to see a Consultant before the operation could be performed. She received the news with equanimity in spite of her disappointment. The Registrar asked if she was alright, wasn’t she angry? This dear woman told her that there was no point in being angry and anyway, it wasn’t her fault. The Doctor said that she had expected a ‘shouting and slanging match’ to ensue because that is what had happened to her before. How sad that we should react in such negative ways to people are only trying their best to help us and what a wonderful example of the light of Christ my friend was that day.
One of the great things about light is that it makes things visible and more comprehensible. In the light we can see things for what they really are and the ogres of the night turn out to be shadows of our imagination. To bring more light to the world, we, too, need to be who we really are, not some figment of social media imagination or our own dreamscape. Socrates wrote:
‘The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be.’