Color Vision

Color Vision

I love art, especially watching the 19th Century European paintings. One of the greatest artists ever, Claude Monet once said, “Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment.”

The vast spectrum of colors that we the people can see is one of the unique aspects of our vision “which makes painting and the appreciation of painting such rich experiences.” (Kosslyn, p.88). Colors vary in along three different dimensions: hue, saturation, and lightness. Hue is the aspect of color, whether it looks blue, green or red is called hue. Saturation is the deepness of the color, the more saturated is the color, the less white is in it. For example, orange is more saturated than yellow. Lightness is the perception of produced lightness or how much light is present. A combination of these three dimensions “produce the incredibly rich palette of human color vision.” (Koslyn, p.88)

How exactly humans can see color is a topic fascinating many researchers since many centuries. The Trichromatic theory of color vision is a theory that proposes that color vision arises from the combinations of signals coming from three different kinds of sensors, each more sensitive to a precise range of wavelengths. In sum, more simplistically said the eye has three types of color sensors: long (in the range we see as red), medium (in the range we see as green), and short (in the range we see as blue). Another theory how we see colors follows the study of the German physician Ewald Hering (1834-1918) known as Opponent process theory of color vision. His theory states that for some pairs of colors, the presence of one inhibits our sensing the other color in the same location on the retina.

In the past learning about the colors and light and how we see intrigued also ones of the greatest minds of human’s civilization like Aristotle and Isaac Newton. The ancient Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle “viewed color to be product of mixture of white and black, and this was the prevailing belief until 1666 when Isaac Newton’s prism experiments provided the scientific basis for the understanding of color. Newton showed that a prism could break up white light into a range of colors, which he called the spectrum.” ( Newton used seven color for segment of the spectrum, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet “by analogy with the seven notes of the musical scale.” ( Newton also noticed that colors other than those in the spectrum exist “all the colors in the universe which are made by light, and depend not on the power of imagination, are either the colors of homogeneal lights (i.e., spectral colors), or compounded of these.” (Newton)
So, thanks to the color vision we are experiencing the beauty of the world around us. Being able to distinguish this incredibly rich variety of the colors makes the human vision one of the lead tool of our perception. Next time when you see Irises in Monet’s garden remember how we are experiencing the world of art.

* Kosslyn, Stephen M, Rosenberg, Robin S. Introducing Psychology. (4th ed.) Pearson Learning Solutions. Bioston. Print 2011.
* Nassau, Kurt. (2016, April 15). Colour Optics. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieve February 19, 2016 from Website. /color
* Elements of Art-Color. Claude Monet. Retrieve February 19, 2017 from Website: