In My Own Write: Shades of meaning

Imagine if every article and column in a newspaper dealt with the Arab-Israel conflict.

London Bridge 311 (photo credit: Werner and Gabrielle Merzbacher Collection)
London Bridge 311
(photo credit: Werner and Gabrielle Merzbacher Collection)
We were always intoxicated with color, with words that speak of color, and with the sun that makes colors live
– French painter André Derain (1880-1954)
‘Idon’t know if you’re being courageous or just idiotic,” a friend who tends to irascibility commented. “Israel is being lambasted all over the place for everything it does, the boycott campaign is widening, anti-Semitism is spreading like a mad weed – and did you hear about the ‘Kill a Jew’ page on Facebook? “These are black times for the country, and you’re writing an opinion column on... color? Where’s your social conscience?” She shook her head angrily.
“Did you notice,” I interrupted this heated flow as calmly as I could, “that you used the word ‘black’ to express your feelings? Next thing, you’ll be telling me my behavior is making you see red.”
“OK, OK, I get the point,” she snapped. “We use colors to help convey how we feel. So? What can you say that’s going to drag people’s attention away from what’s really important?” “To find that out,” I retorted in my turn, “you’ll have to read the column.”
I WASN’T displeased with this little altercation because it allowed me to point out that color – to start with the metaphorical – does more than belong on the opinion (and other) pages of a newspaper; it plays an essential role there. And as for diverting readers’ attention from the “really important” issues, it actually enables them to reengage with those weighty problems, revived and refreshed.
Imagine if every article and column in a newspaper dealt with the Arab-Israel conflict.
How long would it take for the average reader, well-intentioned as he or she may be, to get worn down and lay the paper wearily aside? Shades of opinion on a topic don’t give readers the break they need. It is a paper’s varied offerings on trends and fashions and social philosophy – everything, in fact, but those “really important” issues – that provide a much-needed contrast to the sober stuff while affording pleasure in themselves.
It’s called “color.”
COLOR, scientifically speaking, is the byproduct of the spectrum of light – as it is reflected or absorbed – received by the human eye and processed by the human brain. And there can’t be a much better way to bridge the abstract and concrete aspects of color than to quote another friend who worked for many years as an instructor for the blind.
“People don’t realize how important color is in terms of fitting into society,” she told me over a cup of coffee. “Our everyday speech contains more references to color than we are aware of.
“So congenitally blind children are taught the meaning and associative value of color – for example, ‘grass is green’ and ‘the sky is blue’ – even though they cannot see those colors. It enables them to communicate like everybody else.”
This drove home to me how casually we accept the extraordinary gift of sight and the attendant ability to revel in color – though neurologist and author Oliver Sachs turned the whole idea on its head in “The Case of the Colorblind Painter,” one of the true accounts in his absorbing An Anthropologist from Mars.
Mr. I’s whole life and accomplished career had been built around the use of color in his paintings – until in midlife, as a result of brain damage, he suddenly became colorblind. Gradually he turned into a “night person,” adapted to seeing his world in shades of gray.
He then found he could see in a new way. Textures stood out, he could read license plates from blocks away, and he enjoyed the richness of this new world.
The end of his story is the most intriguing – and counterintuitive: Three years after his injury, it was suggested that Mr. I might be able to have his color vision restored; he declined. His new world, he said, was too varied and interesting to give up.
COLOR can reveal more about people than they know, my blind-instructor friend said, recalling an incident dating back to when she was a teenager in New York.
“It was in 1967, during the Six Day War, and I was collecting donations for the United Jewish Appeal. We lived in a 22-storey building with 24 apartments on each floor, and I rang the bell of a neighbor on my floor whom I’d never met.
“A black man opened the door and received my request graciously. While I waited for his donation, I looked into his sitting room and noted that he had a black wall, a white sofa, and a blackand- white-striped carpet.
“Then his girlfriend, or wife, appeared – and I saw that they were an interracial couple!” I’VE long been enchanted and deeply touched by beautiful colors, which affect me in a tangible way, almost like music and poetry.
Something as ordinary as a freebie clock I picked up from the Bank of Jerusalem now occupies pride of place by my sitting room window because of the Perspex sheeting that surrounds its face: It’s a deep turquoise-green that looks just amazing with the light behind it.
There’s no need to point out the rapt attention the fashion industry pays to color, or the huge profits it rakes in from highlighting different ones every season, sending women in a flurry to the shops to buy the new must-have shade.
But I would appreciate the answer to a question that’s been puzzling me for years: Why is one of my favorite clothing colors gray – the color, let’s face it, of dust and dirt? THERE’S a profession that matches people up with the colors that most flatter their skin tones, and its literature makes what can sound like extravagant claims – for example, that a sales manager who swapped his standard white business shirts for off-white ones which complemented his natural coloring secured the promotion that had eluded him when he looked pale and washed-out.
These color consultants used to categorize people as being “spring,” “summer,” “autumn” or “winter,” and color-advised them accordingly; now they lean toward designations such as “cool” and “warm.”
I’ve been evaluated as “warm” and counseled to choose clothes in rich, warm colors – i.e., those with a yellow undertone, such as rust and teal – and I agree that they do make me look far better than “cool” colors like turquoise and white.
One thing I like about the system is that it stresses that anyone can wear any color – provided they choose the shade that is right for them.
‘THE need for color gets stronger as the years go on,” Ramat Aviv artist Sylvia Yaron told Gloria Deutsch in a November 2008 interview, and it’s a pity many older women don’t appear to share that need, confining themselves to clothes in “safe” blacks, browns and indeterminate sludgy combinations.
“There was a time,” I wrote back in September 2008, “when rigid social structures decreed that matrons must wear frilly caps and black bombazine... Today, every color of the rainbow is there for women of any age to enjoy; for men, too.”
Wake up, ladies: Color calls.
In a recent Channel 8 documentary about children’s view of the world, one little girl surmised that “heaven is full of color.” That may well be, and it’s nice to think so.
But we do know that down here on earth, color is everywhere. And it’s up to us to enjoy it to the full.