Helen V. Andrew


My hypothesis is that 'Colour' as idea acts as a dynamic in the production of meaning and as such is part of what Le Doeuff (1991: 46-49) argues are deeply held epistemes that structure and govern our ways of thinking. I have dealt with the difficulties attendant on the analysis of a phenomenon as insubstantial as colour (as idea and as precept) by assuming Goethe's (1810: 305-323) concept of the enrobement of colour to objects without also attaching Goethe's theoretical hypothesis of moral associations to colour. Thus I combine four different methodologies to broadly related areas and cloak each in colour: the long cultural historical view, the statistical, a case study and an applied art historical comparison. In the first part I have constructed an alternative vision of the development of colour theory from Plato to now, its philosophical, psychological and mythological construction and the consequent framing of women as colour. I discuss how a constructed hierarchy of chromatic value has informed perceptions of gender, arguing that authoritative epistemologies such as colour theory have established fallacious belief systems of chromatic value that reinforce cultural perceptions of gender. In the second I have conducted a three-year perceptual psychology experiment designed to reveal the extent of stereotyped chromatic perceptions of gender in visual arts students at two institutions of Higher Education. The data and results are statistically analysed and the evidence of acculturated chromatic perception is discussed in relation to universal culturally patterned belief systems of chroma and gender. Thirdly I have taken 'yellow' as an epistemological and historical study that proposes and explores an underlying determined semiotic chroma that ensures normalising belief systems survive material and social change. I deconstruct some of the theological mythologising structures and meanings of 'Yellow' and discuss the implications for art history of racism and the recuperation of feminised colour as an adjunct of the phallus. Finally I discuss two women artists, Sonia Delaunay and Bridget Riley and the implications of the word 'colourist' for them as women in art practice. I argue that the general unconscious assumption is that colour originates in emotion instinct and ethnicity and equates women with colour at the level of the imaginary insisting that success for women artists is incumbent upon their colour being confined in a phallic symbolic framework of masculinity. I evidence how acculturated perceptions of 'woman' as colour naturalises and ensures the continuation and institutionalisation of cultural and social systems.

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