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Seeing Color in a Whole New Light

Seeing Color in a Whole New Light

At first glance, the group on stage had nothing in common.

At first glance, the group on stage had nothing in common. What could a world-renowned artist, an interplanetary photographer and a marine biologist possibly discuss with equal zest and expertise? Answer: color, of course.

On March 1 artist Spencer Finch MFA 89 SC, biologist Christopher Deacutis and writer/photographer Michael Benson came together at the RISD Museum to discuss the meaning of color in their own work and in the shifting ground between art and science.

Finch, a RISD alumnus with a major exhibition at the RISD Museum through late July, started the conversation by describing his own artistic relationship to hues, shades, pigments and paints. He explained how he uses color to do amazing things, such as draw smells, sculpt models of molecular structures and chart patterns in his dreams. He also spoke briefly about the effects of color that are evident in the Museum’s current showPainting Air: Spencer Finch, which the Boston Globe calls “extremely beautiful” and “full of visual curiosity and glimmers of humor.”

Deacutis, a marine biologist who analyzes aerial photographs of algae along the Rhode Island coastline, spoke about how computer analysis of these photos breaks down algal growth by color. This allows researchers to distinguish different species and their growth patterns, which, in turn, helps explain the effects of foreign nutrients and pollution in coastal waters.

Benson, the photographer, explained the importance of depicting “true color” – or what our eyes detect in the visible-light spectrum – when assembling raw image data from space probes. He revealed that what we usually see in deep-space photographs is “representative color,” which shows concentrations of wavelengths not actually visible to the human eye.

Despite their totally different backgrounds, the speakers discussed their common experiences with color, expressing the importance of personal interpretation, the need for the human hand and mind in describing and distinguishing between hues, and the beauty as well as the informative nature of color. Audience members were asked to question their own assumptions and associations, and to expand their thinking to incorporate both scientific and artistic aspects of color. All in all, the discussion led people to leave seeing color in a whole new light.

—Samantha Dempsey 13 IL