Monday, January 2, 2017

The Propaganda of Color

As if I didn't need another reminder of how we misread or just miss so much of the world and misuse the words we rely on for communication, I was startled by a missed fiber-art-related connection the other day. I am deep into reading H Is for Hawk, a fascinating journal of Helen Macdonald's training of a goshawk as she mourns her father's death. At one point she mentions that hawks can see so much more and so much more clearly than we can, partly because they can see into the ultraviolet range on the color spectrum.

I had just finished mixing two new dyes from Dharma Trading Company and, I am assuming, named by them. One was Jet Black, the other Ultraviolet, colors I had used many times before.  Now naming colors is a difficult--and sometimes silly--business, as any trip to a hardware store to buy paint can attest. But thanks to Macdonald, I realized that, if this dye was indeed ultraviolet, it would not be the beautiful deep purple it is, but would be colorless, completely invisible to our eyes.

So it is a strange name indeed to name a color. But the namers may have been counting on our not really thinking about the name, just being drawn to this shade (and buying it!) as some kind of ultra purple, and we all know that, if purple is good, ultra purple must be fantastic.

This is a fairly trivial realization--much ado about nothing (or nothing visible), you might say--but how often do we miss these connections? And if I miss the small stuff, how much of the important stuff am I just not seeing? I am also amazed at how serendipitous our understanding of situations is. If my reading had not coincided with this dyeing session, I might never have thought about the name.

Jet Black, by the way, is an absolutely appropriate name since it refers to a very black rock that is a precursor to coal. 

And of course I am quietly delighting in the fact that a color that is unseen was the cause of my seeing all this. 

Happy New Year! And may we all come to see some important truths that are sitting right in front of us this year.