David Batchelor’s essay “Chromophobia” is concerned with the seemingly Western concept of chromophobia—the concept of a “loathing of colour,” or a “fear of corruption through colour.” Batchelor discusses it in the context of traditional Western views on color and the evolution of these views. He notes that the traditional perception of color is as a “foreign” element; he likens perspectives on color to those traditionally towards the feminine, the primitive, and the vulgar.
Regarding the former, he discusses in relative depth the writings of Charles Blanc, a French color theorist who subordinated the concept of color to the “masculine,” which he likened to design and drawing. It seems that Blanc specifically uses the vocabulary of “subordination” to not only illustrate the superior importance of form over color, but to also illustrate the need for color to be contained and controlled, as a woman would be.
Regarding the primitive and the vulgar qualities of color, Batchelor writes of the common metaphors associated with color: those of falling and of leaving or escaping. Citing popular culture references in movies and music, he illustrates how in falling or escaping, chromophobia is turned into a sort of chromophilia. In hallucinogenic drug use, for example, drug users tend to see visions of color that dazzle and confuse them; Batchelor considers this evidence that color is an element of vision and the consumption of art that cannot fully be accessed—especially not without altering your state of consciousness. This piggybacks off a “creation theory” that Batchelor briefly discusses that suggests that color is simply a hint at the “perfect form that is issued from the hand of God,” both elevating its ranks and noting its vagueness and promiscuity.
What interests me most about the chapter is the idea that the conscious needs to regress back to a state of primitive thought, or reduced to its foundations, in order to experience color. As a dual degree in Psychology, this phenomenon is one that I often ponder, and it regards a question I often ask: how does our experience of vision change with our experience of consciousness? Our brain naturally creates hundreds and hundreds of neurotransmitters within milliseconds of each other—these naturally occurring substances are considered endogenous. However, when we introduce exogenous drugs into our bodies—whether they are illicit drugs, certain foods, or even when we have sex—our consciousness is necessarily modified due to the altered activity in our brain. Does that mean that our vision, too, is modified? While the answer is clearly yes for almost any illicit drug you could mention, as evidenced by the references in Batchelor’s writing, could even the everyday, menial things we ingest or experience circularly rearrange our experience of seeing images?
To bring up another point of developmental psychology, I also pondered the section in which Batchelor referenced Le Corbusier’s writings on his trip to the East. The overstimulation of color, Le Corbusier writes, is enough to drive him to abandon and actually actively avoid the use of color, therefore associating it with the hard structure and architecture of his practice. Being from an Asian country, I understand this disparity in the size of the “stomach,” if you will, for color as a developmental aspect of cultural consumption. My first thought as I ponder the countries and the cultures I have experienced is to consider the airports—every country’s hub of international congregation. Every airport in the United States—and essentially, the Western hemisphere—that I can remember is quite monochromatic and industrial. Color is introduced in signs, billboards, and airline logos, but even that color is strictly designed into form. On the contrary, as soon as you step off the plane in my home country, Indonesia, the terminals are lined with rainbows of color outlining abstracted flowers and birds and mythological creatures; the fact that they are unidentifiable only strengthens the concept that it is perhaps a learned concept of Indonesian culture to accept color, not retrospectively, not as design, but simply as color.