Does this look right? The science of colour appearance in art

Parraman, C. (2009) Does this look right? The science of colour appearance in art. In: Science Café , Explore, Bristol, 9 June 2009. Available from:

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Invited lecture for Science Café given at Explore, At-Bristol, 9 June 2009. Have you considered why the swatch colour you take to the paint shop appears very different to the final painted wall? Differences between how a colour is measured and how it appears to the human eye present challenges for colour scientists, designers and artists alike. For many centuries artists and scientists have been observing and developing ways pigmented colour can be mixed and applied to canvas to depict natural phenomena. Yet how to accurately describe and measure colour is a problematic activity. The experimental work in colour photography undertaken by Edwin Land in the 1960s and 70s highlighted differences between how cameras capture colour and our human visual system. He proved that, unlike cameras, humans perceived colours in the context of all the colours surrounding it. He demonstrated the highly sophisticated nature of our visual system but also highlighted the problems of devices that emulated our vision system. Land’s Retinex theory of 1967 (a term to describe the combination of Retina and Cortex), paved the way for a deeper understanding for colour, and in the last few decades, considerable achievements have been made [Land1, McCann2]. With greater demands and new opportunities for the rendering of colour that are comparable with our human vision system - high definition television, cinema, photography, computer games - scientists have begun to reach the limits of how to measure and apply colour. Technicians have begun to seek clues in the world of fine art - how artists have perceived and transcribed colour. 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. Science Café is based on the international organisation Café Scientifique.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Uncontrolled Keywords:appearance of colour, Edwin Land, retinex theory
Faculty/Department:Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and Education
ID Code:7795
Deposited By: J. Montgomery
Deposited On:10 May 2010 13:59
Last Modified:15 Nov 2016 22:05

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