Interaction of Color by Josef Albers illustration
Interaction of Color by Josef Albers illustration

Interaction of Color is Josef Albers masterwork and is one of the significant works on the nature and use of colour in art.  It is indispensable as a guide for artists, instructors, and students.

Josef Albers - Interaction of Color bookcover.
Josef Albers – Interaction of Color bookcover.

John Ruskin, the Victorian art critic, said of colour: “Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch that you add in other places; so that what was warm a minute ago, becomes cold when you have put a hotter colour in another place, and what was in harmony when you left it, becomes discordant as you set other colours beside it.”

Ruskin’s words would not be out of place in a modern design studio.  However, colour theory deals with a subject that has inspired scientific research and artistic exploration since Sir Isaac Newton recombined the spectrum colours into white light.  The resulting investigations introduced countless colour theories and systems, from the almost forgotten Goethe Triangle and the Munsell Colour Tree.

Albers with “Interactions of Color,” made it his life work to translate the knowledge gained from existing theories and the results from his personal research into a practical course on the action and interaction of colour.

The book makes use to realise how little we really know about it, is one of Alber’s declared intentions.  You are confronted with such questions as: Which among several reds is the reddest red? Can you find the accurate “middle mixture” between, say, cobalt blue and vermillion red?   Do you know about the surprising phenomenon of the vanishing boundaries between two neighbouring colours if provided with equal light intensity?  When confronted with a pair of different hues, could you tell which has a lighter intensity?  Sixty per cent of Albers students give the wrong answer in this experiment.  Taken at random, these are some of the questions from the systematically arranged chapters in Alber’s work.

Plate, Interaction of color, plate VIIII-I, 1963
Plate, Interaction of color, plate VIIII-I, 1963

But what is the aim of all this experimentation? Basically, it is this: Albers wants us to realise that “We almost never see colour as what it physically is, what it actually presents.”  He insists that we recognise the principle that colours “read” differently, according to their environments.  According to Josef Albers, the aim of this is “not assembling of knowledge about colour, but the development of a colour sensitive eye.”


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