- 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: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #390,825 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Chromophobia (Focus on Contemporary Issues)
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Batchelor contextualizes the history of chromophobia--fear of contamination through color--using his exhaustive knowledge of art theory, criticism and pop culture. He opens our eyes to the reality of "bright" color prejudice (after all, white is a color). The book begins in a "white room" environment, placing the reader into a bare-bones home of a modern collector filled with things but empty of color. "All the walls, ceilings, floors and fittings were white, all the furniture was black and all the works of art were grey" (11). This room represents the isolation from color that most of the Western world accepts; it is as if Batchelor believes us to be trapped by our own doing in a colorless bubble. Readers must keep this framework in the back of their mind as they learn about color marginalization through time and its classification as disorderly, shallow, hazardous and negligible.
Chromophobia poses real life situations as allegories for the greater messages intended by the book, thus a familiar face is placed onto the abstract concepts of color. We can all relate when thing go array in our lives. With the stigma against drug use, we understand the consequences of tampering with such things. Batchelor compares a fall into color with a similar plunge one takes while under the effects of drugs. They are both "sensuous, intoxicating, unstable, impermanent..." (31). Moreover, he helps us comprehend the cosmetic artificiality of color with the real life example of make-up. Like cosmetic materials, color has been viewed by many as an artificial imposition upon a monochromatic world (51). "It is an afterthought; it can be rubbed off" (52).
The author explains early on that we purge color by relegating it to the negative categories of "foreign" and "unimportant" (22-23). Batchelor attempts to convince us of this with flowery illustrations. He may be deemed successful whether or not you are privy to his references. Many will take to the movies he mentions i.e. Apocalypse Now, Pleasantville, Wizard of Oz etc. But, how many of us have attempted close readings of texts by Adolf Huxley? The number cannot be numerous. Consequently, the average reader is excluded from finding significance from this text. Chromophobia is intended for enthusiasts of art theory and academics. All others should be weary. Either that or be prepared to slog through paragraphs while needing to reread again and again to pull out the main ideas.
On a positive note, Batchelor teases us with information that demands more inquiry--a characteristic of a "good" book. In his examples, he sometimes touches on art historical topics of interest to many of his readers. Cezanne's color theory is one instance. Batchelor mentions a quote from the artist in chapter 2 as he explains the metaphor for the "descent" into color as equal to the decline into drug use. Here is a segment: "...Lose consciousness. Descend with the painter into the dim tangled root of things, and rise again from them in colours..." (34). This begs for a further study involving the link between Cezanne, drugs and color. In essence, Batchelor provides art historians and critics with themes from which to catapult their own research.
While the text may seem somewhat persuading at times, the intention of Chromophobia is not to change the readers thoughts of colors capabilities, but to question them. The various opinions shared quickly snowball into a mental mass of difficult and enlightening information to process that roll around, pull and sway in an effort to generate strong argument in the reader to defend or dispute what Batchelor is proposing in comparison to their own beliefs. One of the dominant perspectives states that "the taste for color when it predominates absolutely, costs many sacrifices; often it turns the mind from its course, changes the sentiment, swallows up the thought (27)." As a reader, this statement creates question that although color may be seen as a distraction, colors ability to persuade, promote thought, as well as support an artists message should not be disregarded. In addition, the text also states that "not only the drawing bends to it, but the composition is dominated, restrained, forced by the color(27)." However color also supports and differentiates form, creates depth and drama with light and in the sense of abstract works is form. This formulates question immediately if the evaluation of color would only be spoken of negatively, and if this true the success of the reader accepting opinions that challenge their own may be an unrealistic goal. In hopes of reaching a point in the book where color is evaluated in a positive light Batchelor shares that Blanc accepted that "color cannot be willed away; the job therefore is to master it by learning its laws and harnessing its unpredictable power (28)." A beam of light in support of color is revealed, reinforcing that the remainder of the text will include opinions from both stances, and perhaps keeping the ball rolling with intrigue. However, looking back at the quotation again, it appears that it can also be read negatively, whereas the words spoken were motivated by surrender to color's capabilities. This also brings the tone of the reading back to a dominant (negative) point of view towards color. If the content of the book remains biased, the readers ability to create argument against the opinions proposed by Batchelor heightens, however the acceptance of such statements shared (by Batchelor) weakens (for those in favor of colors abilities).
One example however that explains color from a positive stand point is its (colors) analogy to a drug. Batchelor opens by explaining the popularity of psychedelic drugs in the 1960's, and their association with "the distortion of form and the intensification of color." (31) Further support is given with Barthes explanation of color with the stimulating effects of ecstasy, describing it as bliss as well as a loss of consciousness, and intoxication, and loss of self. Here, the effects of a drug are produced during and after the experience of an arts viewing. Today, Batchelor described the connection to a drug as being "a bit looser." Rather attributing the experience of a work of art like that of a drug, the forms in a work of art are the connection to the physical object of a drug. For example, Batchelor uses Damien Hirst's Spot Paintings to suggest the circular forms of color can be seen as images of pills. Regardless if the drug like effects were unintentional or intentional, or the connection of forms to drugs as the same, it is evident from these few examples of the positive role color has had in the past few decades.
Whether the reader has accepted new points of view from the reading, or has used the opinions in Chromophobia to simply challenge their own, the ideals shared in Chromophobia have paved a path to educate and challenge artists and readers in an effort to strengthen and empower the mind. In doing so, a clarity of a readers beliefs is reached, and through this, may be channeled into the next great work (of art).