JF Ptak Science Books Post 1282 [With 20 extra images in Continued Reading section]
[Earlier in this blog, about 1200 posts ago, a million words ago, I wrote about an extraordinary book by an aesthetician named Emily Vanderpoel. It is "extraordinary" in a narrower sense, and that "extraordinary" might not actually be positive for its original intent. The extra-intent of the book, what has come out of it for me, was something that was unintentionally accomplished by the author. The images that she used to illustrate her color theory ideas--the basis of which are not really comprehensible to me--turn out to be artwork in themselves, a found art, the artistry of the images taking over the original intention for the arrangement of their color. And so I've returned to the post, to add a bit to the test, and to also add 20 of the original images of this incredible work for sale at our blog bookstore..]
The idea of how we put parameters to something like the visual field is a gargantuan topic—it is something that architects and geometers and physicists and mathematicians (in general) have dealt with forever.
Mapmakers have perhaps the most visualized aspect of this on paper, performing the semi-miracle of translating three dimensions into two; physicists have a more difficult time, taking the opposite approach, sort of , and translating two or three dimensional space into x-number of dimensions. Anatomists had a difficult time of their subject until relatively recently in human history, what with the sublime religious curfews on messy knowledge and all coming into play, poking around into the heart and such as though it was an affront to the sanctity of the creator (M Servetus’ ideas on the circulation of the blood via the heart, making the heart a tool and not the brain or some odd conjunction of creative divine power, cost him his life, burning slowly alive at the stake…how mysterious the whole world of RNA Genotype-Phenotype Mapping and such would seem to him if he could have a peek into the future/present from wherever he is.)
Color theory is old and pretty—as a matter of fact there is a very attractive gathering of color theory models (in black and white, though) displaying some two dozen or more color models from the last 400 years. People like Della Porta (1593), our old friend and resident oddball polymath crank Kircher (1646), the smarter-than-you-could-believe Newton (1660), Waller (1686), Lambert (1772), the wide ranging and again polymathic Goethe (1792), Herschel (1817, who also ushered in our understanding of the other light-sensitive shape spacing medium of photography in 1840), the semi-forgotten Chevreul (1835), the beautiful Maxwell (1857), Wundt (1874, the early experimental psychologist who also looked for spirits/spiritmus and ghosts), von Bezold (1878), Rood (1879), Munsell (1918) Kandinsky (1914 and not decipherable by me) and Klee (1924), and so on towards the present, all tried to analyze the prospects of color.
Not in this list is the very highly problematic Emily Vanderpoel, who in 1901 and 1903 produced (in two editions) a lovely but mysterious book called Color Problems for the Layman, in which she sought not so much to analyze the components of color itself, but rather to quantify the overall interpretative effect of color on the imagination. I know this sounds begging and vague, but I really haven’t been able to make much headway in the work.
I’m attracted to this effort because of its attempt at quantifying such abstract thoughts.
By virtue of this effort, though, Vanderpoel had produced a strikingly illustrated book, with 118 color plates, all very intense, and beautiful, and in its way exceptional—unique for it time perhaps. Had the book been written thirty years or so hence we’d call it some sort of constructivist/constructionist artform. But since the artwork in the book comes a decade before the first non-representational artwork in human history (or so), I don’t know exactly what to call it.
I really don’t know what it is, but I know that it is not entirely accidental, this pre-non-representational artform, because controlled geometrical color art is not accidental.
In trying to quantify the color images of the objects in her study, Vanderpoel establishes a 10x10 square grid, dividing all of the color in that object into individual units numbering to 100. Then, somehow, she identifies the major colors and places them according to a system that I cannot understand within the grid.
The net effect is glorious. I just don’t know how she got there—which isn’t normally a consideration in art, except that this work is an instructional on how to understand color in art and nature, and the explanation of the procedure is ethereal. Vanderpoel was and remains a respected author on porcelains and other applied and plastic arts. In this work she looked at her fair share of porcelain, limogues, clay pots, burial urns, glass shards, and the like; she also analyzed clouds, mummy cloths (and casings), dew on morning grass, brocade, the eye of a blue jay, feathers, and another hundred or so poetic arragenments of the stuff of teh world. I still do not know what this book is trying to tell me, but I do know that it is remarkable.