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Yellow-Red: Munsell’s Concern with the Subtlety of Orange

Orange Mosaic Pendant by Margaret Almon
Orange Mosaic Pendant by Margaret Almon, glass, gold smalti, mirror, 1.25″

My love of orange appeared when I started making art in my 30’s.  My sister loved orange as a child, but I was unmoved, baffled.  I discovered that orange was a contentious subject for some color theorists at the beginning of the 20th Century.  Albert Munsell worked on developing a color notation system, like a Dewey Decimal for color, without names, which he found undecipherable, and his notation is still used in the 21st Century.

Munsell Sphere Color System
Munsell Sphere Color System

Orange is known as Yellow-Red.  Munsell was an artist, and he envisioned colors as mixtures of pigments, and orange was yellow plus red pigment.  He wanted to teach children about color starting with the primary hues and only then moving to intermediate ones like orange.  Henry Bailey, a teacher of art, was incensed at the notion that children weren’t ready to learn about orange.  He saw orange as a basic color, along with green and violet, in addition to the primaries of red, yellow and blue.  Both Munsell and Bailey took color education very seriously, in an odd forward echo of sex education in my own era.

Munsell Color Chart
Yellow-Red Munsell Color Chart

Reading the text of Bailey’s lecture on color, I was surprised by the sudden turn into theology.

In conclusion Mr Bailey said that the end of all education is character God’s aim in this world is the perfection of human souls and he has flooded it with color. Let us try to lead the children to see the color that there is in the world and to love it.  And when we are weary of this world we love to read of the next and in the Book of Revelations we are told that the gates of the heavenly city have the colors of the most beautiful and most precious stones and may it not prove that in teaching our pupils to appreciate the beauties of this earthly habitation we are preparing them to share the glories of that eternal abode that house not made with hands

I have a spiritual connection with color, though not in a Book of Revelations way.  In spite of my discomfort with color theory being equated with preparation for the gates of heaven, there is something wonderful about Bailey’s line, “Let us try to lead the children to see the color that there is in the world and to love it.”

More Yellow-Red Goodness on my Orange Tuesdays Pinterest Board

The Color Orange Sets of a Testy Debate

Psychology of the Color Orange 

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