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Color Harmony and The Production of Aesthetic Images (Part One)

"Our response to colours is complex, involving reactions at an emotional, subjective level to physical facts of light at different wavelengths." (Michael Freeman, 2005)

As common and ordinary as it is, color is a complex phenomenon. As the above quote aptly put it, discussing color is basically discussing about our response to it. That response may be scientific - as that made by physicists and/or chemists - or aesthetic - like that made by artists, designers, and photography practitioners like ourselves.

When it comes to the issue of the production and assessment of beauty, which I believe what aesthetic is essentially about, the nagging question about color is what makes certain combinations of colors harmonious or pleasing to look at?

Many of us (read: artists, designers, photographers, or even ordinary consumers or art works) would probably just say it's a gut instinct. We just know it and can feel it when a certain combination of colors is right. But this answer will of course be confusing to those who do not have the "talent" for that kind of gut or those who are learning to understand how colors work the magic in a pleasing composition. So what do aesthetic theories say about it?

According to art historian John Gage, the theory of harmony can be classified into four. The first of these views harmony as or in terms of scale, just like that of music. Then there are also theories that consider harmony in terms of complementary relations, resemblance in the level of brightness/value, and the psychological response given by the subjects. In addition to these, there are also others who say that hues and expectations may also play a significant role in the construction of what is considered to be a harmony.

That being explained, we may also ask another question, that is, if harmony is really the issue when it comes to composing colors (or other elements for that matter) in the making of beautiful images? Certainly art (including photographic art) is not just about harmony. As many art connoisseurs know, elements of discord can sometimes also play a role in the making of aesthetic objects. However, I don't think this is the right place to wage on this kind of argument. Let us just concentrate on the issue of what is pleasing about color composition.

Text and photo by Eki Akhwan

To be continued in the next part.
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