Color Harmony I
WE become aware of beauty in a color composition through the easy perception of likenesses among its diverse elements. In this process the mind, following its normal method of thinking from the particular to the general, passes from perception of the variety of color stimuli to apprehension of their essential unity. In the attempt to create beauty in a color treatment, however, this process is reversed. We begin by insuring unity through the choice and distribution of a dominant hue, and then proceed to add the variety of hue and tone necessary to beauty.
In one sense this is an easy, simple, almost a mechanical process. We already know, through study of the chromatic circle, how the various hues are related. We know that the color on either side of the dominant hue is half like and half unlike it, and therefore sure to yield a measure both of unity and diversity if used with it; and that its complementary, lying directly opposite on the circle, is wholly unlike it and therefore certain to add to the effect of diversity. We know that the color values must be arranged in an ascending scale from relatively dark on the floor to relatively light on the ceiling; that the walls and ceiling must be relatively neutral, whatever their hue, while somewhat purer color may be used on the floor and in hangings and furniture coverings; that pure or almost pure color can be used only for accent and in very small areas; that in general the purity of a color will vary inversely with its area; and that while contrasts of hue, intensity and tone are required to give diversity and make beauty possible, not more than two of these factors ought to appear in any given contrast, while one is sufficient for many of them. Equipped with this knowledge, we can start with any hue approved by our judgment as a fitting dominant hue and build up a color scheme free from serious dissonancces, revealing unity in diversity, and therefore, in some measure, beauty.
In fact, we can, even with our present knowledge, go further than this; for we understand the emotional values of the various hues, of pure and neutral colors, of light and dark tones, and can accordingly proceed at once to the expression of ideas, which is the only thing that gives interior decoration dignity and standing among the other creative arts. Finally, we recognize the importance of expressing these ideas through convergent effects, in which line, form, texture, proportion, balance and light supplement and confirm hue, intensity and tone, and we know a little of the technique through which these convergences are produced.
This much, and a little more, it is easy to teach and to learn. Beyond this little more the use of color cannot be taught. Instruction can lay down a few broad principles, or guides to practice, and through study of these principles the beginner in the art can leam to avoid serious mistakes and to work out pleasing though simple harmonies for any dominant hue, just as the beginner in music, through study of the principles of counterpoint and musical progression, can learn to avoid dissonances and to work out pleasing though simple harmonies for any melody. But the subtle or invigorating harmonies that soothe or stir the soul demand for their creation in either art an imaginative power and a mastery of technique not to be acquired by reading a book, or a multitude of books. The brief and tentative discussion of color harmony here included is offered as a guide to further study, and particularly to experiment and practice. We must use color in our rooms. Hence we must create color arrangements, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Accordingly any ex- position of the subject, however limited in value, seems justified if it can help toward pleasing arrangements, however simple.