color theory

For a hot minute I worked at a bakery up in Chicago. The front staff I worked with was around my age, maybe a bit younger, and mostly Polish or Hispanic.

One of the Polish girls, sharp and biting, stopped me one day.

“You have beautiful eyes.”

“Thanks! I always thought they were ordinary, since they’re brown.”

She frowned, scrunched up her face, and looked me in the eyes again.

“No,” she dismissed. “They aren’t brown. I don’t know what color, but they aren’t brown.”

Remember that dress? The one that was white and gold or blue and black or some combination of those four colors? No one could agree, the internet was in an uproar, and no one seemed to realize how stupid the entire argument was. Everyone wanted to be right. The way they saw that dress was clearly correct.

It seemed people forgot perception, especially on a computer screen, is easily changed by brightness, calibration, etc. There’s a reason I edit all of my photos with my brightness turned all the way up.

Color is funky. It’s the reflection of light off a surface- so the color we see, isn’t the actual color of the object.

Humans have three kinds of cones: red, green, and blue. These cones help us decipher the light and detect color. However, what kind of cone a person has may vary, and some very rare people may have a mutation where they have orange cones, and are able to see even more colors than the average person. Even on a cellular level, we may see color differently.

Color is also cultural. In cultures where there is a larger vocabulary to describe colors, more colors can be separated and identified. In cultures where fewer words to describe colors exist, people can’t differentiate, say, blue from green.

I had an ex who would become pissy every time I said his hair color was brown. He insisted it was dark blond.

Maybe he was right, maybe I was wrong.

But I always saw it as brown.

Now, sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I can imagine I see a bit more green, a bit more gold, and a bit less brown in my eyes.

I’ve learned it’s much wiser to keep my mouth shut when someone sees a shade of salmon as more orange than pink. People’s perceptions of color vary so wildly that it is a matter of opinion, not fact. Fools can bicker over color—wisdom would be using those subtle differences to make a point, to make some art.


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