David Batchelor is a Scottish artist and writer; in the year 2000, he published his seminal book, “Chromophobia”, to expose our deeply rooted fears about color. Targeting architects and designers, Chromophobia is a brilliant short piece of cultural history, consisting of independent essays, that overlap in many ways.
Chromophobia – a fear of corruption or contamination through color – has lurked within Western culture since ancient times. This is apparent in the many attempts to purge colour from art, literature and architecture, either by making it the property of some “foreign” body – the oriental, the feminine, the infantile, the vulgar or the pathological – or by relegating it to the realm of the superficial, the inessential or the cosmetic, which in many cases amounts to the same thing. In Chromophobia, David Batchelor analyzes the history of, and motivations behind, chromophobia, from its beginnings through examples of nineteenth-century literature, twentieth-century architecture and film, to Pop art, minimalism and the art and architecture of the present day. Batchelor suggests how colour fits, or fails to fit, into the cultural imagination of the West, exploring such diverse themes as Melville’s “great white whale,” Le Corbusier’s “journey to the East,” Huxley’s experiments with mescaline. Dorothy’s travels in the Land of Oz and the implication of modern artists’ experiments with industrial paints and materials.
Reading through Chromophobia, one should not seek academic rigor; instead, Batchelor weaves together many cultural phenomena related to our perceptions of color, in a way that is both fun and stimulating to the reader. However short and bite-sized this book may appear to be, its arguments require a lot of thinking and may, eventually, take a long time to digest: The writer’s aspirations and methods are almost psychoanalytical. In the end, however, confronting Chromophobia may be as amusing, and as liberating, as experiencing the effects of a color bomb.
This is required reading for any architect, designer, artist or layperson who wishes to rethink their own received ideas, and liberate their creativity by finally embracing the one medium of expression that has made great art through the times: Color.
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