21 August 2016


As I was driving from Alfred toward Maine to see CDS, I was listening to WMHT out of Schenectady. They were playing a Radiolab story entitled "Why Isn't the Sky Blue?" about William Gladstone (19th-century British Prime Minister) and his study of Homer's mentions of colors. Homer mentions black and white dozens of times, red and yellow not so much, and never blue. He also speaks of the "wine-dark sea" and green faces and other odd mixes of color and object. This led Gladstone to think that Homer was color blind. The Radiolab producer Tim Howard then studied a German philological text about mentions of color in a variety of ancient cultures. He found that Homer was not particularly unusual. Blue doesn't appear in ancient Chinese texts and other Mediterranean cultures with the exception of Egypt. Is that because you don't name a color until you can make it? The Egyptians had lapis lazuli. Sky does get mentioned but not blue.

I didn't get to listen to the whole story because WHMT went out-of-range as I went over Grafton Mountain. As I came down into Williamstown, it seemed about time to stop driving for a while. I got to the Williams College Museum of Art and noticed a banner for the current show on Abbott Handerson Thayer. I associate him with angels and golden paint but he also did a lot of research and drawings and paintings of birds and how they use color to conceal themselves. His interest in color concealment among animals also played out in his work on military camouflage. He and Teddy Roosevelt argued about animal coloration but were both very important in conservation efforts in the late 19th century and into the 20th.

In the new acquisitions gallery, there was a Jonathan Monk work called "16 photographs with all combinations of green" in which red (!!) circles are stuck on found photos. What's with the red/green? More color, haunting me. No problem, I really enjoyed the art break and then got on my way across Massachusetts.

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