The starting point is the study of color and its effects on men.
—Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1912
The study of color—what it is, what it means, how best to organize and display it, and especially, the question of what makes combinations of colors pleasing—has a long history. The search for answers to these questions has produced an enormous library of writing known as color theory. Included within it are color-classification and color-order systems, color dictionaries and atlases, diagrams and encyclopedias. This writing covers color as science, color as language, color as poetry, color as instruction, color as art.
With the exception of the very earliest writings, the first concern of color theorists has been to find a way to organize and present colors in a format that is both comprehensive and logical. All start with the same material—there are no “new” colors—but organizational concepts arise from very different disciplines: from philosophy, from the arts, from mathematics, from science, from industry. As a result, it is not unusual, for example, to look for a definition of “primary colors” and find three different answers.
Each system of color-order is unique, and each seems at first to call for a separate truth, a format all its own. But there are common ...