The Social Uses of Colour Theory


While I am preparing a discussion of new agricultural sites to develop a renewed farming economy, a meditation about light , to set the scene. The German poet Goethe observed that shade is a part of light. Colours, he pointed out, are shadows, and the result of shade. They are, he said, light itself. He did not mean the kind of light that allows you to view this post on a screen. He meant how light is humanly perceived. Something like this:


Early Morning Sun

He also believed that darkness is not the absence of light but a force equal to it. In the image above, this means that colour is formed at the point where the surfaces of light and darkness meet. The first colour to form, as the image above shows, is blue. In his book Farbenlehre (A Theory of Colours), he notes:

Yellow is a light which has been dampened by darkness; Blue is a darkness weakened by light.

Here’s some of that yellow. Think of it as a different kind of shadow (Goethe did):

It is, in other words, a form of blue — specifically, as blue manifests itself in darkness. It is a shadow. And if you blend yellow and blue you get, as most every child knows, the colour of life. This too is blue:

P1080611It is, however, a different mood of blue than either “blue” or “yellow”. In its case, it is full of self-replicating vitality and the ability to bind carbon dioxide, water and sunlight into sugars, starches and other carbohydrates. For Goethe, the earth was spirit and the goal of any investigation was to bring its creative power into human thought. When applied to grasses and other plants, even these …

P1040006Algae in a Spring Wetland, Okanagan Landing

it means that at the point where the shadow light casts in darkness meets the shadow darkness casts in light, life arises. I offer the observation that this …

P1080583… is also blue — but in this case, it is the point at which the edge of a light-edge (blue) and a shadow-edge (yellow) meet to form another edge effect. To put it another way, when light is diluted to yellow by darkness and darkness is diluted to blue by light at the same time, darkness and light take on a green mood, together. The real value of Goethe’s theories is not the esoteric, spiritual nature of their discussion of light and darkness, but the observation that darkness and light are full of creative force; by observing them, humans can act socially in the way that grass acts within the earth — to create life. Accordingly, this flax, which has largely stored the combustion of sun and darkness in its seeds now …



… is the kind of work I hope to present you with tomorrow, in terms of usable agricultural space within spaces of its absence, in just the way the sun, 150 million kilometres away, is almost perfectly focussed in the grass seeds below…

P1090381Through its ability to fix these photosynthetic effects in time, photography is a form of photosynthesis — another green mood of the colour blue. But that’s a discussion for another day.





3 replies »

  1. Harold, you always blow me away! I just wish I had more time to write to thank you for all these thoughts. I read each one and am transported!


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