The art and science of colour: Bridging the gap between art and perception

Parraman, C. and Rizzi, A. (2008) The art and science of colour: Bridging the gap between art and perception. In: CHArt Conference (Computers and the History of Art 24th Annual Conference), Birkbeck, University of London, 6 - 7 November 2008. Available from:

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The paper considers the relation between the art and science of colour perception and how computational procedures, which mimic our visual system, have been developed to advance digital imaging techniques for the enhancement of colour and image quality in digital photography and art. How to describe and measure colour is a problematic activity, for colour scientists, designers and artists alike. Furthermore, there is a difference between how the radiometry of colour is measured and how the appearance of colour is perceived. For contemporary colour science, there is a requirement to accurately measure and specify a colour. However when looking at art, at photographs and at real life situations, attempts to define what we ‘see’ are more complex. For example, if two colours are placed side by side, the eye might perceive modifications to the intensity of one colour when compared to another, and their colorimetric measures might not predict or correlate with the appearance. The experiments undertaken by Edwin Land in the 1950s and the Retinex theory of colour vision (1964), links with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s experiments (Zur Farbenlehre, 1808). They can be regarded as examples that bridge the gap between biology, physics and art. Edwin Land is better known for his invention of the instant Polaroid film and camera. Moreover, he was interested in the human visual perception system, how colour is perceived in relation to its context and through his experiments developed the Retinex theory of colour vision (1964). Land and McCann’s Retinex (1971), starting with analogue electronics and quickly expanding to digital imagery, used a new approach based on computational algorithms that has made it possible and practical to manipulate images based on spatial methods of image enhancement, that has led to brighter and more colourful photographic images. (McCann, 2005 and 2008). Goethe’s interest in human perception as presented in his Farbenlehre (Eastlake, 1840) attempted to record his many observations on colour phenomena. One of his experiments with a prism investigated how fringes of colours appeared and changed according to different black and white patterns; the position of the edges revealed not just spectral colours but their complementary colours. Although separated by over 100 years, Goethe’s experiments in colour phenomena and perception correspond with Edwin Land’s theory of the human colour perception and his psychophysical experiments undertaken into human colour constancy and colour in context. Through their very different experiments, they attempted to gain a deeper understanding of physical vs. perceptual colour, and how the brain elaborates the physical signal in order to enhance the extraction of visual information – what appears in our brain and what lies in front of us. (Tallis, 2008).

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords:colour perception, measuring colour, radiometry of colour
Faculty/Department:Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education
ID Code:7733
Deposited By: J. Montgomery
Deposited On:22 Apr 2010 08:33
Last Modified:15 Nov 2016 22:05

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