Epiphanies

Home / Education / ARChives / Foundational Discussions

Epiphanies

From Kimbal Welch

Published before 2005


I had an epiphany this morning. It occurred in the shower while I was trying to figure out how to explain to my kids the principal of optical mixing. I drifted into normal color mixing when it suddenly hit me that all mixing is optical mixing! Paint is medium with microscopic granules of pigment suspended in it. When you mix two paints, the granules of pigment optically mix, and you get another the secondary color. Now there are probably several of you saying so what. The point here is that optical mixing has been treated for years as something completely different from normal mixing with paints. In fact, the only difference between optical mixing using little dots of color, and optical mixing by using microscopic granules of pigment is the resolution of the image. Traditional optical mixing is simply a low-resolution picture. So I have to ask what was the point (if you'll forgive the pun) of Seurat? If you are already optically mixing with paints, why try to do it using big (relatively speaking) dots.

(Yes, I know that the principle of optical mixing had just been discovered, and Seurat was showing off his technical knowledge.)

I can see now that having art students create a secondary color by optically mixing dots of primary colors is a good tool to teach color mixing in paints. Once a student understands the principle they should be better able to mix the colors they really want from a six-color palette. Other than this, I can't see that optical mixing as a technique is useful. After all, it's all optically mixed just at a very high resolution.

Why is it that many of the techniques of Modern art are really just glorified student exercise?

Kimbal