Color and Culture

Candice eetimesYesterday, my husband and I were driving down the highway while discussing color.  Color is my career.  I spend decades designing and improving color flat panel displays.  But yesterday the conversation wasn’t about displays but about paint.

We passed by a recently finished suburban housing development, rows of townhouses.  They all came in two colors, dirt brown and dull sand.  There was literally no other color to be found.  It was depressing.

It reminded me of the old house that I had bought and restored in Portland in the early ’90’s.  It was painted battleship grey.  It stood in a neighborhood of houses of all painted various shades of dull grey.  I painted the house vibrant colors of pink, purple, turquoise, and cyan.  It was lovely and cheerful.  I planted flowers the matched the house.  But when I sold it several years later, the new owners repainted it… grey.

As we drove down the highway I pointed out to my husband how the vast majority of cars had the same limited color palette.  It reminded me of that famous statement attributed to Henry Ford, “You can have any color you want as long as it is black.”

The color choices seemed to come in three hues, black, white, and dull.  Seriously, there were no bright colors.  There was dull… is that grey or dull blue?… or is that dull green?  Is that car red? No, it’s just dull brownish orangish… dull.

Imagine a cop asking witnesses to describe a car involved in an accident; “Well… the first car was a dull… it was dull… something or other.”

As we drove further we played a game of “find a real color”.  We saw a lime green van, a commercial vehicle with a custom paint.  Then we saw a yellow car… oh… it’s a taxi.  Finally we saw a true blue car.  It was lovely.  It was a tiny Fiat.

It struck me that there is something wrong with our culture.  We can’t stand to use color.  Our houses are dull.  Our cars are dull.  Our buildings are dull.  Perhaps our minds are dull?

Oh wait!  There’s an RV there with a custom paint scheme!  It was a riot of tesselated triangles of every imaginable color.  As we drove by, I saw it was ‘signed’ in one of the triangles, “ArtQuake”.  There, my faith in humanity restored.  At least someone else in the world values color.

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