Color notes from an “art drop-out”

In the course of shopping for gifts this year, I notice a lot of elaborately designed coloring books. They’re everywhere, toy stores, book stores, craft stores, even grocery stores. I can’t help wonder who has time to fill in the intricate patterns in these books? I barely have time to keep up with friends, email, laundry, errands, (grand) kids…and I don’t have a real job! It’s true I probably watch too much TV now that there are Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and cable options. But that isn’t until the dinner dishes are cleaned up and I’m incapable of being feasibly productive. I suppose I could color while I watch TV but that would be like watching with subtitles, wouldn’t it? You don’t see the actor’s faces and often miss weather the line was spoken in dead seriousness, or jokingly, ironically, threateningly… Sometimes you don’t see enough to tell one actor from another.
But the subject is color.

It’s said that a healthy diet should be rich in multi-colored fruits and vegetables. And life is fuller with colorful friends, even if that friendship consists solely of reading their clever/uplifting/intelligent Facebook posts (Twitter, Instagram… whatever app you use to stalk interesting people who might not be willing to come to your house and share a tub of store-bought ice cream).

My mother was an amateur painter. She was a fan of green. Not bright green, turquoise, teal, any sort of vibrant shade or rich blend; but bashful institutional greens, the green of school walls, hospital corridors, government offices. Today some of these institutions have begun to include color in their environment, but in those days an indistinct green was thought to be soothing. My mother was a calm woman. Her home and clothing choices could soothe you to oblivion.

I, on the other hand, am a fan of color. Fall is my favorite season. The worst part of winter is the absence of color—grey skies and people huddled in amorphous dark clothing. I admire summer colors though I’m too old and plain to aspire to drastic vibrancy.

I covet rooms and fashions that are bold colors but, unfortunately, I was laughed out of art class in the seventh grade. I have little sense of what goes together. I know when the end result clashes but have trouble predicting disharmony. I can’t visualize what a color will look like on a wall from a tiny sample or even a stroke of the brush, though I know it’s wrong when it’s completed. When I needed a file cabinet and was offered a pink one, I thought I’d hate it and end up repainting it but, frankly, I think it looks great with the mismatched blues and teals in the room. It matches the skin of the actor on my Peking Opera poster and the faded red of my Carson & Barnes circus poster.

My son doesn’t take a position on color but his wife is very good at choosing dramatic shades and putting them together. My daughter has a curious relationship with color. Her home and clothing are shades of black, white and grey. I would never have thought these “colors” come in shades, but she puts a great deal of attention to whether there’s too much pink in the white, or green in the grey. These are nuances I miss, lessons that must have been taught in art classes beyond grade seven.

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