“You might think that the best way to analyze an area of color is to stare at it intently. But that’s just the wrong way to do it. The longer you stare at an area, the grayer it gets. Your eye becomes used to the color; it fatigues, your sense of color dies. The only way to judge the color of an object is to compare it with the color of objects near it.”
This is one of those passages that continues to yield new meaning with every reading. Lately I’ve been looking closely at color fields, those large areas of color that at first appear the same, but reward further looking with variations. A large meadow, the sky, a road, a group of trees. The idea of not staring, but keeping the eye moving is very helpful. As you move your eye across the wall in a room, you begin to notice differences in the color as you move across the color field.
Another way to interpret this passage is to consider a color in comparison to things around it, rather than within itself. Thus, how light or dark something is depends on what’s around it. Colors can be compared to one another, giving more clarity to exactly what kind of blue is in the sky or what gray on the trunk of a tree. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have to watch out or our paintings will be 80 percent green. Comparing greens, however, gives us a multiplicity of colors.