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Chromophobia (FOCI) [Paperback]

by David Batchelor
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 1, 2000 1861890745 978-1861890740
The central argument of Chromophobia is that a chromophobic impulse - a fear of corruption or contamination through color - lurks within much Western cultural and intellectual thought. This is apparent in the many and varied attempts to purge color, 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 supplementary, the inessential, or the cosmetic.

Chromophobia has been a cultural phenomenon since ancient Greek times; this book is concerned with forms of resistance to it. Writers have tended to look no further than the end of the nineteenth century. David Batchelor seeks to go beyond the limits of earlier studies, analyzing the motivations behind chromophobia and considering the work of writers and artists who have been prepared to look at color as a positive value. Exploring a wide range of imagery including Melville's "great white whale", Huxley's reflections on mescaline, and Le Corbusier's "journey to the East", Batchelor also discusses the use of color in Pop, Minimal, and more recent art.

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Chromophobia (FOCI) + Colour (Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art) + What Color Is the Sacred?
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Editorial Reviews


"A thorough and witty cultural history of color."
(Karen Rosenberg New York Times 20080304)

"A provocative contribution to the discourse of color theory."
(James Meyer Artforum )

"Full of good writing, good anecdotes, devastating quotes, deft arguments, and just the sort of mysterious anomalies one would expect from an artist writing about the enemies of his practice."
(Dave Hickey Bookforum )

"This beautifully produced book is an intelligent and provocative essay on why Western culture hates and fears colour. The prose is cumulative and passionate in its effect and widely referential—from Barthes to Melville, Wim Wenders to Huysmans. . . . You cannot fail to be stimulated by his thoughts"
(RA (Royal Academy Magazine) )

"Batchelor has found an irresistible selection of anecdotes and quotes relating to the experience of color. . . .  Thoughtful and entertaining."
(Tema Celeste )

"A hugely entertaining guide to our ongoing obsession with white."
(Time Out London )

"Switching from novels and movies to art and architecture, Batchelor clearly and cleverly traces the cultural implications of the 100 year-plus Colour War between Chromophobes like Le Corbusier, with their hosannas to whiteness, and Chromophiliacs like Warhol, the great artist of cosmetics. A succinct book of art theory which goes down smoothly."
(iD Magazine )

"A theoretical and cultural banquet. . . . The book's narrative quality goes beyond the telling of color theory's history and other approaches to color, coming to read like a psychological thriller: how the West crushed color—or at least thought it did so."
(New Art Examiner )

About the Author

David Batchelor is Senior Tutor in Critical Theory at the Royal College of Art, London. He is also the author of Minimalism (1997).

Product Details

  • Series: Reaktion Books - Focus on Contemporary Issues
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861890745
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861890740
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.9 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #369,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating and readably well-written argument that western civilization has a long-held prejudice (though not one shared by the author) against color, especially bright color.
Batchelor is highly literate and informed, plus has an impressive knowledge of contemporary art. His suggestion that color tends to be seen as frivolous/minor/feminine/or even evil is backed up with wide-ranging references to culture (contemporary and earlier), art history, lit., and more. (Including an unexpectedly timely observation that historically, evidence of the decadence of Islam included its profusion of color and pattern.)
Just a few other examples:
--the white space as sign of seriousness and quality in the modern gallery or collector's home
--the art historical ranking of disegno as superior to colore
--in French lit, the symbolic association of rich hues and precious materials with decadence
And much more.
As for me, I almost had to buy this book for its hot pink cover alone
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant and brevitous December 11, 2005
I picked up this book from a list of gotta-haves for a class on aesthetics and I gotta say this enormously eccentric work of journalism/philosophy/strange-spooky, kaleidoscopic-microscopic assorted collection (loosely connected?) on art and its psychological reception is worthy of many, many more clauses weighed down with much, much praise.

Anyone with a theoretical interest in aesthetics will find this book packed with gems begging to be peeked at.

A quirky and compelling read. And short too (+).
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Color As Corruption, Or Is It? August 22, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Color as chaos. Color as other: feminine, strange, dangerous. Color as cosmetic, therefore superficial and vulgar. Color as corruption. This is the mindset behind chromophobia. In his book, which defines and takes this term as its title, David Batchelor sets out to present his argument; namely, that Western culture, from nearly its beginning, has held a prejudice against color for all the various reasons listed above. This prejudice has supported the marginalization of color and has left discourse on the subject of color in art lacking. In fact, Batchelor notes on a `color-blindness' not too uncommon in art history, be it in the discourse concerning the work of the architect Le Corbusier or in the over-eagerness to associate of Minimalism with white.

Batchelor is well read and clearly knowledgeable about the topic of color, pulling examples from across literate, philosophy, and popular culture, in addition to art, to illustrate his point. He glides seamlessly from discussing the long-held artistic tradition that values line over color (line is rational, color emotional, chaotic) to commenting on the relationship of narcotics to the intensification of color. While color in this scenario can be blissful and beautiful, it is nonetheless the cause of a Fall from grace, reality, nature...however one may look at it.

Color is the cause of corruption, but there is no way around it. "We are color ourselves," Batchelor gleefully states. This, of course, doesn't stop the attempt of those who fear color to control it. Newton, while not necessarily a chromophobe, designed the color wheel, systematically creating a hierarchy of color that would become the very bases of Western color theory.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chromosterious August 28, 2010
David Batchelor's Chromophobia wrestles with different notions and perspectives on colour theory stemming from research into literature, science, philosophy and art. He takes a seemingly holistic approach to the subject pulling in various historical accounts ranging from the logic of Plato and Aristotle, crossing paths with Melville and his white whale, Conrad and his dark heart and ending up at the cinema in Pleasantville and of course, The Wizard of Oz and Dorothy's sparkling ruby slippers. Throw in an Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe and some glitter and it's pretty much icing on the cake, no? It's a bit of an "everything but the kitchen sink" read, which makes its juxtapositions novel and entertaining. But there is another aspect at work in the book, the Western notion of perfection and holiness, righteousness and supremacy of thought and reason, the bleaching of colours to the pure state of white "a kind of white that is not created by bleach but that itself is bleach". Mr. Batchelor is fascinated by the cultural influences that define and shape our collective experiences with colour and it's meaning, just as much as colour itself.

The book is quite organic in a way; it starts with colour as a base but as the research and comparisons progress, approaches otherworldliness, the "everything and nothing of life", all at once. In the beginning of the last chapter the author says "I want to preserve the strangeness of colour; its otherness is what counts, not the commodification of otherness." And this I think is the books power and the author's intent.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars its ok
read this for class it was ok buy it if you want to i dont want to tell you how to live
Published 24 days ago by Julia Grimes
4.0 out of 5 stars Good essay regarding colour attitudes
A short interesting good quality academic piece by a man who knows his subject. I recommend it to anyone thoughtful about the use of colour in art and design.
Published 2 months ago by Eric A. Foster
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of Chromophobia
Important text for my Color Strategies course that I will be teaching in the fall. Students will be required to read from this text.
Published 10 months ago by Marilyn Propp
5.0 out of 5 stars Why are you bothering me
I bought and paid for the product... isn't that enough? And then they want ten more words... corporate pests. Oink.
Published 11 months ago by A. Ranieri
2.0 out of 5 stars Skip the Book, Read this review
This fabulous pink covered book is so thick with pink it feels suade like. The color doesnt seem "cosmetic, applied, stuck on, [or] removable" (pg.62). Read more
Published 20 months ago by Troutman
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fearful World of Colors?
David Batchelor's "Chromophobia" is a book about color. He introduces the reader to the world of colors, the history of color theories, and he shows how positions of color are... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Simona Doletzki
4.0 out of 5 stars Color into Context
In Chromophobia, David Batchelor discusses a phenomenon many of us are unaware exists--the fear of color. He claims it is prevalent in Western societies. Read more
Published 20 months ago by M. Bowman
1.0 out of 5 stars Nonsense
Colorless, stupid, self-adoring, artless babble. Save your money. I did find the positive reviews by all the people who did not understand this book and were too afraid to admit... Read more
Published on September 28, 2011 by Writenow
4.0 out of 5 stars politicized color theory
Color--as David Batchelor's Chromophobia would argue--is an entity perpetually perceived as messy by Western society. Read more
Published on August 23, 2011 by Micah Sizemore
4.0 out of 5 stars Chromophobia
David Batchelor begins Chromophobia, his brief but thorough discussion of color and our personal and societal perceptions of it, with a description of the stark oppressiveness of... Read more
Published on August 22, 2011 by Cristina Goncalves
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