Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Problem with Barnstone, Color Theory

One of the books that I read and re-read and analyzed is the book "The Enjoyment and Use of Color" by William Sargent. You might recall that this was the pseudo-assigned text for Barnstone's color class. The book is really really fantastic. Considering how critical I am, you can take that as high praise. Interestingly enough, the book explained much more clearly some of the things Barnstone was teaching. In fact, I can work backwards from Barnstone, and show you an example of how my reading has clarified much of my "learning".

It goes like this...

Barnstone teaches his color palette based on the text of Fletcher. Fletcher's theory is not as unique as Barnstone would have us believe. The idea of a "color key" (as Fletcher talks about ) is simply the color bias that occurs when one uses a SPLIT COMPLEMENT palette. A split complement palette is one where some  color (for example, yellow) forms one point of a triad, with the other two points being on either side of the complement of this first point (in this case, the complement is violet). To the left of violet on the color wheel is RedViolet or Red. We cannot go so far as Red Orange, because that contains yellow (which takes us too close to the first point). To the right of violet is Blue Violet  and Blue (we cannot go so far as Blue Green, because that too contains yellow).

Fletcher's theory insisted that if you start with Yellow, then you can choose as your split-complements either RedViolet (one step to left of violet) and Blue (two steps to right of violet)... or else Red (two steps to left of violet) and Blue Violet (one step to right of violet). By insisting that one split-complement be one step from the complement, and the other two steps... he was attempting to add another level of color bias by moving one of the split-complements closer to the first point. The first point of the triad (yellow), is called the KEY.

This all sounds so scientific and theoretical. But it is simply an expansion of the split complement palette... and perhaps an overly complex one at that. At root, the split complement is common knowledge... certainly useful, but NOT worthy of the god-like love Barnstone throws at it. By reading Sargent's book I was able to debunk the teachings of Barnstone to some degree.

Also on this point... I also was reading Juliette Aristede's book "Classical Painting Atelier", in which she talks about Open Palettes vs. Closed Palettes. Closed palettes are ones where you mix all your colors before you begin painting... open palettes are ones that you mix as you go. Barnstone's approach was a completely closed palette. This approach has some benefits, but the downside (which Barnstone never mentions) is that it can be (a) too time consuming (b) lead to color palette that doesn't really match the subject and (c) lead to paintings that all have the same look and feel. This author (Juliette Aristedes) goes on to say (interestingly enough) that this closed palette is good for impressionistic approaches. When you consider that Barnstone is an OPEN advocate of British Impressionistic painting (and his assignments were impressionistic in nature)... you begin to see a BIAS in Barnstone's teaching. By the way, Juliette Aristedes was a student of Barnstones, and had gone to Pafa... so her perspective here is quite enlightening.

So by reading these two texts and cross-referencing... the meaning and context of Barnstones teachings could be fleshed out. And so on and so forth. And in general, as I engage in this project of looking for clear views on these things by way of reading... I am able to figure out what is going on.  These cross-references do not necessarily invalidate Barnstones teachings... they simply invalidate the ABSOLUTISM of his teaching... and remove all the ATTITUDE that attaches to what he says. And in general, when all the cross referencing ends, much of the bullshit of much of what we are taught gets sheered off... and what is left are the essential issues. Once you distill things down to these essentials... you can begin to order and arrange them, and understand them. At least this is my hope, and I'm having some success at this approach. Again, time will tell.


1 comment:

  1. Love your observations re: Barnstone. Spot on. Insightful. Thanks for the commentary about the color theory and open palettes vs. closed palettes.