Fear of Color

Butterfly by Sally Wiener GrottaLast week, Daniel and I went shopping for carpet. Our home and studio is an old Oddfellows Hall, and our stairs are industrial metal. For years, we’ve been promising ourselves that we would someday carpet them. Not because they are ugly – I think they’re interesting and fun – but because carpeted stairs would be gentler to our feet and a bit of cushioning should help to protect anyone who might slip and fall.

Last week, we thougt that “someday” might be approaching. So, we went shopping for just the right carpet.

Given that we have oriental rugs at the top and bottom of the stairs, I had in mind a deep burgundy, with variations in the dye that would be visually appealing, as well as hopefully camouflage the inevitable dust and dog/cat hairs.

What we found at the carpet store were scores of beige, tan, brown samples, with some scattering of greys. Of the very, very few reds, most were of a low quality that just wouldn’t last long enough to make the investment worthwhile. And all were timid, as though the designers wanted to create a red that would be as inoffensive, as unnoticeable as any beige.

Stepping back and blurring my eyes, I looked around the shop. What I saw was nothing. No color, no visual vitality. Why? I suppose because that is what sells. But why does it sell? Are people really that afraid of color, of making a visual statement, of making a choice that says this is what makes me happy, or comfortable, or secure?

I understand the idea of sometimes needing to have neutral shades as background. Our studio walls are white. Our lighting is daylight fluorescent. That way, no colors can contaminate my perception and judgment when I’m working on my pictures.

But walk away from the studio area, and we’re surrounded by color. The living room walls are painted an old-fashioned muted rose. Our bedroom is a pink coral. The sunroom is the brightest yellow I could find. I chose each color for its emotional impact. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, they fit the mood I wanted to create for each room.

Daniel reminds me that I’m a color maven, professionally. Not only do I work daily with color in my photography, art and print work, I also advise and write about controlling and reproducing color. But that’s the adult me. Long before I had chosen my career path and developed my expertise, I loved color. My aunt used to tell a story about how when I could barely talk I would wiggle about and flatly say, “No!” whenever anyone tried to dress me in an outfit or color combination I didn’t like.

Then, again, don’t all children respond to color? Isn’t that why art with bright, bold colors is often called “naïve”? Only when folks grow up and become “sophisticated” do beiges begin to dominate.

I would rather be considered naïve than sophisticated, to choose the colors I live with based on what feels and looks right to me, rather than worrying about the opinions of others.

A beige life is just too boring.

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