5 THE INSTABILITY OF COLORS The Instability of Colors / Color Composition / Ground and Carried Colors / Placement and Color Change / Equilibrium / Simultaneous Contrast / Afterimage and Contrast Reversal / Complementary Contrast / Ground Subtraction / Color and Area: Small, Medium, Large

The same color in two different contexts is not the same color. . . . This means that the identity of a color does not reside in the color itself but is established by relation.

—Rudolf Arnheim

Color is an experience of pure light, as insubstantial, unstable, fleeting, and changeable as a breath of air. Unanticipated color changes can be costly as well as disconcerting. There are real implications for vendors when a color that has sold well in the past loses its appeal when it is included as part of a new palette, or when companion products like wallpaper and fabric do not sell because their colors fail to coordinate when they are shown in a retail setting. Even grays, blacks, and whites will alter under the right set of conditions. The ability to anticipate the sometimes startling changes that take place in colors when they are arranged in different ways or placed in different settings, and to adjust for them as much as possible, is a critical skill for design professionals.

The Instability of Colors

Apparent changes in colors take place for two very different reasons. The first lies in the relationship between objects and the lighting under which they are seen. Changes in general lighting ...

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