The Web of Color

Human ideas concerning the nature, purposes, and uses of color form a densely interwoven historical web. In the current chapter, a brief history of these ideas is presented with the primary focus on general and scientific aspects. Some philosophical ideas have been presented in Chapter 2. Chapter 11 is a brief historical review of the development of color and color theory in art, with the special subject of color harmony presented in Chapter 12. The chronological development of the main ideas is shown in the timetable in the Appendix following Chapter 12.

When humans became aware of colors is unknown. The new find in a South African cave, mentioned in Chapter 8, of ochre ground some 100,000 years ago to make it suitable for painting indicates a long-ago time. The evolutionary history of the human color vision system, briefly presented in Table 2.1, shows that modern humans, Homo sapiens, are at least about 250,000 years old (Sawyer & Deak 2007). It seems unlikely that our color vision system has changed in any significant way since then. As for most people still today, color then was simply recognized as an aspect of a material or object, helping to distinguish it from other materials and objects. It was a valuable, if unrecognized, tool in the daily struggle for survival. Communication about color as part of proto-language is likely to reach that far or further ...

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