JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 531
A circus passed the house—still I feel the red in my mind. Emily Dickinson, 1866
Color expresses something by itself. V. van Gogh
Pure color! You must sacrifice everything to it… P. Gauguin
Standing in my friends Lucy & Andy Archie’s store, standing near a window and catching some sun on a cold stinking day, a large red jar cast a long red shadow along the wall, causing me to think about the color. (It was a pretty nice shadow.)
Red has turned up as an important color in terms of patriotic/vitriolic symbolism (as in the revolutions of 1848, Garibaldi, communism), Aztec cochinealial luxury, important burial dress of the Cro-magnums, signs of divine favor and condemnation, Roman red divine, Egyptian danger, royal cinnabar of China , Indian bridal dresses, Japanese heroic figures, and on and on (into the lower realms of red tape, blood red, fire, blind anger, love/passion, evil, crushing impropriety, and etc.)
Red’s most important contributions, perhaps, at least in modern times of the past few hundred years or so, comes in the field of art and science—and its appearance really is pretty monumental, and weirdly coincidental in their placement in the chronology of Big Important Stuff. The birth of impressionism (with Monet and the Salon des Refuses), the greatest change in the history of art since the rediscovery of perspective, and the solidification of spectrum analysis (Bunsen and Kirchhoff), both occurred around the period of 1859-1863—the great use of red for both of these developments would come somewhat later, though the red roots began here.
The achievement of Bunsen and Kirchhoff, started in the
epochal year of 1859 (the same year seeing the publication of the Origin), was
nearly as spectacular as any other scientific achievement of that century. The two men showed—and this would have been
incredible to the mind of the 19th century—that individual atoms had
their own spectral signature. When the
Englishman William Huggins absorbed their work, he realized immediately (as did
Bunsen and Kirchhoff) that the spectroscope could be turned on the sun and all
the rest of it—the results of the experiments of these three revealed the
elements of what stars were made of, something that must’ve seemed like science
fiction come true. The second part of
the second step* in this fabulous discovery and application came 65 years
later, when American astronomer Edwin Hubble** theorized and proved that the red shift that occur in the spectra
of all galaxies actually (a phenomenon which had been observed for years but
not understood) meant that they were all racing away (at a speed proportional
to their distance, Hubble’s Law) from the Earth—the basis of the Big Bang. Cosmological significances aside, this was
also a big deal for the advancement of color, as it really hadn’t played a very
major part at all in the history of science to this point (excepting the
brilliant occasional bits like
This was a lot to blow through in under a thousand words, and undoubtedly I’ve slandered several good ideas—but I think overall that this is a reasonable idea, this importance of the color RED. There’s much more to be said about the Impressionists and a whole bunch more on the absence of color in the history of science, but that’ll have to come later.
Of no importance but of some smiling interest is the notion that the paintings that were rejected for exhibition in juried salons (in France in the 1860’s) and which were used in a new movement and in new “juried” shows called Salon des Refuses, were all stamped with an “R” on the back of their canvases.
*the first great advancement coming in the solving of the so-called “ultraviolet catastrophe”, arriving through the Maxwell equations of 1873 and riding into the quanta of Planck in 1899/1900 (and then to quantum mechanics).
**Hubble, Edwin, "A Relation
between Distance and Radial Velocity among Extra-Galactic Nebulae"
(1929) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States
America, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp. 168-173