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Chromophobia (Focus on Contemporary Issues)

27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1861890740
ISBN-10: 1861890745
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Editorial Reviews


"A thorough and witty cultural history of color."
(Karen Rosenberg New York Times 2008-03-04)

"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).

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Product Details

  • Series: Focus on Contemporary Issues
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1861890745
  • ISBN-13: 978-1861890740
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By dave-o on March 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
Batchelor's own take on color theory is not only a well-researched overview of color in art, architecture, cinema, and literature; it is also a call to action of sorts for artists to reclaim color from its minimalist bastardization in art and its commercial bastardization within the market culture. Batchelor uses the terms "chromophobic" and "chromophilic" to characterize to what extent this bastardization takes place and cites examples from (mainly contemporary) art history as to where the shift from color-as-representation to color-as-color took place.
That discussions of color as secondary to drawing (or design) are neither prevelant in the industry nor in academia proves how engrained into art theory the secondary status of color is. Also of interest is the chapter on the role of semantics and color interpetation. How for example some colors in the abstract such as green-yellows are univerally more difficult to convey than others.
Every serious artist should read this book to reintroduce the importance of color to his/her concerns and to adress contemporary concerns over the loss of color by its oversaturation in less artistic settings.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By LESLIE J ROBERTS on January 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
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 By Rabel Stoltzfus on December 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Lauren A. Walton on 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 By Simona Doletzki on August 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
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 anchored in Western culture.
The word "Chromophobia" is of Greek origin: chromo meaning color and phobia fear. Batchelor gives various examples of critical positions about color in art. He writes: The "loathing of color, this fear of corruption through color, needs a name: chromophobia" (22). He also demonstrates the long tradition of skeptical positions concerning color. Aristotle distinguished between color and line in favor of the latter. With this distinction he started a hierarchical order within different fields of art (29). Later theories were put forward for example in 18th century France where Batchelor mentions Charles Blanc's distinction between painting and engraving (24). Some representatives of color theories in the 20th century are Le Corbusier and Theo van Doesburg whose ideal architecture was dominated by white and not by colorful elements (46).

Batchelor aims to get the reader acquainted with a broad spectrum of positions concerning color. Therefore he uses a lot of examples found in interdisciplinary fields like fine arts, architecture, film, literature, philosophy, linguistics but also pop culture. A literary example can be found early in the beginning of the text when Batchelor quotes a description of white in Herman Melville's "Moby Dick or The Whale" (11).
The 'apocalyptic' and 'dangerous' component of color is demonstrated, among other things, through cosmetic color. Batchelor mentions Andy Warhol's colorful prints of Marilyn Monroe, shown with a lot of make-up, in which color and line are dependent of each other (61).
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