Chromophobia - a fear of corruption or contamination through colour - has lurked within Western culture since ancient times. This is apparent in the many attempts to purge colour from art, literature and architecture, either by making it the property of some "foreign" body - the oriental, the feminine, the infantile the vulgar or the pathological - or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the inessential or the cosmetic, which in many cases amounts to the same thing. In Chromophobia, David Batchelor analyzes the history of, and motivations behind, chromophobia, from its beginnings through examples of nineteenth-century literature, twentieth-century architecture and film, to Pop art, minimalism and the art and architecture of the present day. Batchelor suggests how colour fits, or fails to fit, into the cultural imagination of the West, exploring such diverse themes as Melville's "great white whale," Le Corbusier's "journey to the East," Huxley's experiments with mescaline. Dorothy's travels in the Land of Oz and the implication of modern artists' experiments with industrial paints and materials.
Why do we regard wearing black and white is more professional and formal than wearing color? Why do we continue to gender vibrant colors as feminine? Scottish artist David Batchelor coins the term “chromophobia” to capture the ways Western psyche seeks to renounce color, homogenize it, remove it of its complexity and depth. He argues that a fear of corruption or contamination from color haunts Western culture.
Western society has made us associate color with otherness, excess, irrationality, and chaos. Black and white on the other hand is projected as neutral and serious. This fear of color is perhaps best encapsulated by the German writer Johann Wolfgang van Goethe who once wrote: “savage nations, uneducated people, and children have a great prediction for vivid colors…people of refinement avoid vivid colors in their dress, and the objects that are about them and seem inclined to banish them altogether from their presence.”
Batchelor reviews an extensive body of scholarship in art history and philosophy to show how chromophobia is enabled by displacing color to the realm of a “foreign” Other (the feminine, the primitive, the queer, the pathological, etc.) bestowing it with this projective power to invade, overwhelm, infiltrate, annihilate. This is a similar and mutually informing process whereby Western culture continually imagines itself as threatened by “non-Western sensuality.”
According to Western colonial aesthetics, whiteness is whereas color does. Therefore, color must be controlled, classified, and contained.
Washington City Paper Arts & Entertainment : Book Review
Hue and Cry By Glenn Dixon • March 2, 2001
Why the little black dress? The black Model T? The black telephone? The white operating theater? The white cube? White paper? Whitewash? Why the determination of "serious" newspapers to be the last to welcome color? Of "sophisticated" parties to be black-tie—or white-tie? Why blue funk, yellow journalism, red alert?
Why do decorators discard dust jackets and have the library rebound in matching leather? Why do architecture students, a particolored bunch on matriculation, depart in the dark uniform of their profession? Why do black-and-white photographers, having fought for the recognition of their métier as art, look askance at their colleagues who trade in color? Why is analytic cubism so drab?
Though he addresses only some of these questions directly, British art writer David Batchelor implies that the answer to all is "chromophobia," a deeply ingrained Western prejudice, dating back to antiquity, by which color is denigrated and suppressed. "Chromophobia," his brief, accessible, clear, and rigorous book the color of a synthetic raspberry creme, asserts that the
"purging of colour is usually accomplished in one of two ways. In the first, colour is made out to be the property of some 'foreign' body—usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration. Colour is dangerous, or it is trivial, or it is both. (It is typical of prejudices to conflate the sinister and the superficial.)"
Batchelor isn't canting or crying wolf when he calls chromophobia a prejudice. As with all societally entrenched types of bigotry, you find yourself subconsciously reliant on its forms, even if you're temperamentally indisposed or philosophically averse to accepting its arguments. Its language shapes our metaphors, (dis)colors our speech, and sways our behaviors. As I sit here in my green hat with its gold embroidery, in my burnt-orange shirt and red striped socks, sipping Chartreuse and tending my nails with a pink Swiss Army knife, I'm wondering, why did I think my Aeron chair needed to be upholstered in basic black to match its frame? And why is it that the thing actually seems to be black, not just colored black? And why would a red Panton chair seem to me more chair than red?
Batchelor would place the answer in the age-old opposition of form and color, most visibly inscribed in the Renaissance grudge match of "disegno versus colore: drawing versus coloring-in." He employs a 19th-century critic, "the appropriately named Charles Blanc," as his partisan for the former: "The union of design and colour is necessary to beget painting just as is the union of man and woman to beget mankind, but design must maintain its preponderance over colour. Otherwise painting speeds to its ruin: it will fall through colour just as mankind fell through Eve." So it is that color is seen as a fall from grace, from a prelapsarian ideal of reason and harmony with the divine into sensuality and chaos.
In "The Marzipan Pig," Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake's bizarre and lyrical children's book about aesthetic longing and the great chain of being, an owl—who has eaten a mouse that devoured the titular hero back on Page 3 and so has absorbed the pig's sweetness, its pinkness—swoops down from a branch to pitch woo to a taxi meter, which glows impassively violet in the night. When the meter goes dark, the owl turns to purse-snatching so that it might once again be illumined. He, too, has fallen, has been infected by color, within and without, has even had his morals corrupted by color; only he has fallen into grace, not from it. Why should a chromophile's story follow the narrative established by chromophobia?
Using the example of "Pleasantville," Gary Ross' film in which a gray-scale '50s sitcom town is adulterated by '90s lust, youth, and color, Batchelor writes that
"chromophobia and chromophilia are both utterly opposed and rather alike....On those occasions when colour is given a positive value, what is most striking is how its chromophobic image—as feminine, oriental, cosmetic, infantile, vulgar, narcotic and so on—is, for the most part, not blocked, stopped and turned around. Rather the opposite: in chromophilic accounts, this process is usually both continued and accelerated. Colour remains other; in fact, it often becomes more other than before. More dangerous, more disruptive, more excessive....[C]hromophobia recognizes the otherness of colour but seeks to play it down, while chromophilia recognizes the otherness of colour and plays it up. Chromophobia is perhaps only chromophilia without the colour."
In a swoop as fell as the owl's from his tree, Batchelor has confirmed why color is such a difficult thing to think about—and to defend. If color's opponents perceive all its attributes rightly, but despise them, a chromophile is left with little room to maneuver.
Thus "Chromophobia" may have a hard time convincing color's foes, especially those who deem color more a distraction and a cosmetic than a corrupter, of the importance of its discussion. But suffice it to say that the book speaks to but a specific case of a general intellectual malady, one whereby morals and aesthetics are confounded. In the course of awakening susceptible readers to the full spectrum of visual experience, Batchelor arms them with the skepticism appropriate to discerning whether a purported virtue is simply a self-imposed poverty in disguise.
"Chromophobia," which came out about four months ago, was mentioned in some year-end best-of lists in Artforum, but otherwise it doesn't seem to have found much of an audience. So when I tell my friends about it, I always predict that it has the potential to be the next "Invisible Dragon"—a small, tight, powerful book that prods people into examining a cultural blind spot, a book that, in the words of Peter Schjeldahl's cover blurb for that collection of essays on beauty, if "read widely and above all well, word for word...will help the world."
There's little doubt that Dave Hickey's 1993 book has had an enormous influence on the art world, but the real world never really gave up on beauty. Beauty's exile, an artifact of the renunciatory bent of modernism, was more historically restricted than is color's subordination, which is altogether more pervasive and more enduring, less dependent on the quirks of the cultural moment. Although Batchelor's book is less personal than Hickey's, less virtuosic and less indebted to the finesse of its author's rhetoric, it is more likely to help not just the art world but some of the rest of it, too. CP
Incredibly boring and pretentious. I picked this from a list of books for an assignment in one of my art classes because the topic sounded interesting. And maybe it could’ve been had it been written by someone who was concise and could get the point across in 10 pages rather than 25. Realistically this could’ve been a 10-15 page paper rather than a 125 paged book. Would not recommend at all.
David Batchelor exposes some key truths about how colour in recent history is experienced, purposefully trivialized and in essence, feared by men in power; especially those of a higher social class and...well, white. The book has some great cornerstones but at the same time I could not fully enjoy it because I found the writing to be extremely all over the place. There are some sudden brilliant ideas in it which also seem to vanish in thin air within the same page; they aren't explored further. Batchelor jumps from one half-explained idea to the other repeatedly, quotes one philosopher after the other and quite arbitrarily so. It makes the phenomenon of chromophobia feel much more built on random words from individuals rather than cultures as a whole. Batchelor also uses a lot of, in my opinion, unnecessarily pompous language. It gives the book a very 'bulshitty' vibe which is sad because the ideas in it are pretty amazing. I feel they could do with some better articulations so that they become more accessible.
Batchelor adeptly weaves together some curious trends in our complex relationship with colour. The recurring themes certainly get you thinking, but are best taken with a grain of salt, as the examples brought into this dense little book don't always say what he thinks they do as surely as his eloquence might incline one to believe. Insightful, but not revolutionary.
Cromofobia es, para mí, un ensayo fallido. Un ensayo que parte de una premisa espectacular: "la carga cultural que tiene el color (el color como concepto) en nuestra sociedad y en el arte", pero en la que, el autor, no es capaz de sacar todo el partido.
Esto se debe, desde mi punto de vista, a su sesgo de clase y género. No es capaz de ver el potencial de sus propias tesis. Por ejemplo, expone una idea súper potente: la vinculación intrínseca del color con la otredad.
El color, desde el punto de vista de la cultura occidental, es decir, desde el punto de vista hegemónico se ha relacionado con lo femenino, con lo infantil, con lo "primitivo", con lo LGTB, con lo "vulgar". El color está vinculado con toda la disidencia del sistema clasista, racista, misógino, homófobo, tránsfobo y adultocentrista en el que estamos.
Por lo tanto el color es accesorio, irrelevante, es más, es tentador, es peligroso porque distrae de la forma, de la pureza del blanco y de la línea. Esta "cromofobia" ha estado en la base de toda enseñanza artística academicista y ha sido la triunfadora de todos los debates pictóricos sobre la forma y el color. El color (la disidencia, la otredad) se debe someter a la forma (al sistema, al statu quo), la función del color es servir, ser útil y sumiso, a la forma.
Dejarse llevar por el color y que este sea el aspecto central de la obra, sólo hará de esta pieza algo vulgar, hortera, simple, nada elevado ni profundo. Pero también esta asociación está presente en la vestimenta y en el maquillaje. Usar mucho color es hortera, está mal visto, no es elegante.
Todo este análisis que hace Batchelor me parece súper revelador y tremendamente interesante. Sin embargo, el autor, despacha estas ideas en breves paginas y se centra en unas implicaciones más filosóficas que pragmáticas, entre otras cosas debido a sus referentes casi todos señoros de pro. Además en muchos casos no se sabe cuándo analiza o crítica las ideas de estos referentes o son los pensamientos del propio Batchelor.
En cuanto al propio texto, aunque la prosa es bastante buena, la organización del texto y de las ideas no me llevaban hacia conclusiones claras sino que más bien eran nexos para ideas, muchas de ellas, interesantes pero sin una gran conclusión clara.
En definitiva, me quedo con mis propias divagaciones sobre el texto, usándo su posicionamiento como herramienta de análisis más que con el texto en sí que, como decía, es más bien fallido.
Para concluir y siguiendo con esta vinculación metafórica, llenemos nuestras vidas, nuestras caras, y nuestros cuerpos de color. Seamos unos pavos reales, horteras y estridentes, que eso también es disidencia.
This is how my reading experience went with Chromophobia: Chapter One: Crap. I hated this book. Chapter Two: ok. . . blablablab Chapter Three: AH HA! because of this chapter I now hate ch. 1 less Chapter Four: And now I hate ch. 2 less Chapter Five: pretty good stuff
This book read backwards to me. I didn't either understand half of what the author was saying, hopefully not because of my own stupidity, but because he didn't make sense. But as the book went on, I felt I understood it more and more, by reading further I understood previous chapters better. It was an odd read, and one I did for a class. But, I had never actually thought about COLOR in such a way before, or that it had such a significant background other than being paint, or decorative. Interesting the way color is explained by a phobia or phillia, between a fall from grace or a fall into something in general. Its a good read, which leads to an examination of your own artwork, at least it did in my class.
This is a fantastic little book that goes against the Western philosophical tendency to attack, revile, or belittle color. This book is accessible and readable, and full of interesting arguments.
But if you're looking for intellectual rigor, search out this book's Ur-text: Jacqueline Lichtenstein's The Eloquence of Color: Rhetoric and Painting in the French Classical Age. Unfortunately the book is hard to find, but it's worth it.
Other far superior books that I would recommend reading instead of the poorly written, disjointed, and over-reaching Chromophobia: Richard Dyer's White or Toni Morrison's Whiteness and the Literary Imagination.
Chapters 4 and 5 were the least frustrating chapters of this book, like a pretentious veil had finally been lifted (briefly). Otherwise, thoughts felt incoherent and some just unnecessary. It was just overall an unpleasant read.
Deludente. Un saggio di cui non capisco se potermi fidare, non tanto per la profondità degli enunciati, quanto per la mancanza di una correlazione di impianto. Batchelor mette insieme dotte riflessioni e acute argomentazioni, ma tutto quello che sceglie e tralascia non viene ripreso in alcun modo. E quello che sceglie non è un pezzo dell’argomentazione ma l’argomentazione stessa. Cromofobia è la negazione/non uso/repulsione verso il colore (inteso come cromie altre dal bianco/nero), mi aspettavo qualcosa di più solido in termini storico-argomentativi, e invece …. mah. Ad esempio, la parte sulla cosmetica in ottica di cromofobia (intesa quest’ultima come genere culturale e non come patologia) alla fine si risolve in: il make up viene visto come contro/anti natura. Se aggiungiamo che la fluidità espositiva non è proprio il suo cavallo di battaglia, il mah raddoppia.
Ps: inoltre il libro non contempla la contrapposizione bianco-nero data dalla stampa, che appare dolorosamente agli occhi per una tipografia (Bruno Mondadori) oltre lo scadente: il retino del nero spande, le lettere sporcano la pagina, come zampette di ragno, come finissima polvere di carbone. Uccide gli occhi, da leggere.
A very good informative read, made me think of chromatic and a-chromatic colour from a different perspective. My favourite passage from the book is a quote from William Gass on the relationship between colour names and colours.
"The word itself (blue) has another colour. It's not a word with any resonance, although the 'e' was once pronounced. There is only a bump now between the 'b' and 'l', the relief at the end, the whew. It hasn't the sly turn which crimson takes halfway through, yellow's deceptive jelly, or the rolled down sound in brown. It hasn't violet's rapid sexual shudder, or like a rough road the irregularity of ultramarine, the low puddle of mauve like a pancake covered with cream, the dissaproving purse to pink, the assertive brevity of red, the whine of green."
This passage had me muttering the colours slowly to myself repeatedly on the train and all the passengers were looking at me very strangely
I liked the range of sources and the way this book made me think about colour. However, I didn't find it a really easy read. Structure felt a little erratic and some parts superfluous or repetitive. I also think there's an argument that it's not fear of colour, but the veneration of white that is at work in excluding colour. I think this could have been explored some more.
I'd recommend Derek Jarman's Chroma as a book celebrating colour, plus it's touchingly personal about his life with AIDS. Also 'White' from the BBC series The History of Art in Three Colours explains the role of people like JJ Winckelmann, Wedgewood, WHistler, Corbusier and even Mussolini in the adulation (and misuse) of white in art. Not such a pure colour as one might think.
Chromophobia is a brilliant book-- deceptively brief, it took me much longer to get through than I would have thought because I had to stop and pull apart--mentally chew-- almost every paragraph. While I am neither an art historian nor a semiologist, this book took me into these fields and helped me to think about the myriad of ways in which western tradition expresses fear of the other. I love this work.
I took my time with this collection of essays, and I'm glad I did. Batchelor is an excellent writer with clever, incisive prose, but when I let myself read quickly I risked losing the thread of his arguments for my enjoyment of his prose. I took long breaks between each essay, and I would recommend any other readers do the same. This book engages with the long tradition of ascribing color with values, ones that western systems often hold as lesser, exotic, Other. A key quote I want to hold on to (and thus will be included below in this review) feels like a great distillation of the book's core argument and the multivalent position of color:
"There are many stories of the world made colour, or colourless, and their lessons are often contradictory and confusing. Colour is both a fall into nature, which may in turn be a fall from grace or a fall into grace, and against nature, which may result in a corruption of nature or freedom from its corrupting forces. Colour is a lapse into decadence and a recovery of innocence, a false addition to a surface and the truth beneath that surface. Colour is disorder and liberty; it is a drug, but a drug that can intoxicate, poison or cure. Colour is all of these things, and more besides, but very rarely is colour just neutral. In this sense, chromophobia and chromophilia are both utterly opposed and rather alike. In particular, they are often remarkably similar in shape. On those occasions when colour is given a positive value, what is most striking is how its chromophobic image--as feminine, oriental, cosmetic, infantile, vulgar, narcotic and so on--is, for the most part, not blocked, stopped and turned around. Rather the opposite: in chromophilic accounts, this process is usually both continued and accelerated. Colour remains other; in fact, it often becomes more other than before. More dangerous, more disruptive, more excessive. And perhaps that is the point. Chromophobia might not really have its opposite in chromophilia; chromophobia might be seen as simply chromophilia's weak form. That is to say, chromophobia recognizes the otherness of colour but seeks to play it down, while chromophilia recognizes the otherness of colour and plays it up. Chromophobia is perhaps only chromophilia without the colour."
An interesting read (though it could certainly benefit from some trimming down), but though Batchelor recognizes the part of patriarchal, western ideals in our fear/disdain of color and decoration in art and architecture, he never quite connects the cultural supremacy of it to white supremacy, which obviously informs it - or at least he never quite calls it what it is. I've never seen someone so thoroughly miss the metaphor in Pleasantville, linking the citizen's fear of color to a lighthearted fear of imperfection and humanness and a nostalgia for 1950s, and not the obvious parallels to segregation and the civil rights/women's rights movements. He steers as clear as he can of any isms, in trying to keep this firmly in the realm of academic study, but I think in doing so he treats as art as mere decoration and ignores the very real effect of art and chromophobia on human beings.
It is probably a bit mean to give this two stars but I'm trying to be harsh. I loved loved loved chapter 4, but the others were all a bit less good. A bit confusing and also a bit eh. I'm fully willing to accept that academic writing is sometimes a little confusing and just because I didn't understand everything doesn't mean it's not good. I am not an art or philosophy student so I might not know lots of the stuff, although I do know a lot of the things that were mentioned and I still found it to be quite dense in parts. If I were to recommend this, I would have to just recommend chapter 4.
Chromophobia has a really interesting thesis about how the Western world rejects color as a result of its association with "the inferior." I wish Batchelor's argument had explored in detail not only that this phenomenon occurs but also more explicitly stated what the consequences of it are. There is some discussion of minimalism but I felt these discussions could have been pushed further still. Overall, it is a well-written, and insightful read.
Interesting and extensive exploration into the very human history of colour, delving into anthropology, sociology, philosophy and art, amongst other topics. The essay was written as most academic essays are: complexly and with lots of probably unnecessary words. If you can make your way around the slightly pompous vocab you’ve got yourself a good read.
Or....the author may have a phobia of white?Hahhahhhaa, just kidding! A very intriguing book which I would recommend. Tapered a bit towards the end, but strong arguments and analysis on culture's use of colour... I loved all the literary sections! Moby Dick,Conrad, Oz! Really very marvellous!!!
Meandering and self indulgent. Very pretty language but it's overstuffed. 3 stars for the research and sentiment, and it IS well written, but it's the non fiction equivalent of purple prose. DNF at 50%