Does colour make you sleepy?

3:20 PM 1 November 2003

I had the good fortune of being one of 400 people present when Matthew Collings, of This is Modern Art fame, gave a lecture here in Adelaide late yesterday. Working back late on Wednesday so I could leave earlier yesterday was a small price to pay.

The lecture was titled On the modern problem of everyone falling asleep when you mention the word colour. Matthew did mention it on a number of occasions but to my knowledge everyone remained far from asleep. With the possible exception of a small child up the back who after about fifteen minutes did quieten. As an aside I’d love to hear added to the standard request at the commencement of such an event, where everyone is invited to switch off their mobile phones, something similar for noisy children.

The tradeoff, as Matthew saw it, for the current popularity of art was the fixed ideas that have developed about what makes high art high and modern art modern. He encouraged the audience as artists or appreciators of art, to develop their own perspectives of what makes art. Not in a vacuum but with knowledge of arts history and contemporary angles.

He was keen to correct the image that had developed of himself as the result of his public exploration into the facets of modern art, that he was a champion for the Young British Artists. He suggested that the necessity to delve deeply into the ideas of post-modernism to make a value judgement of the YBA’s work highlights their shallowness. At least, when compared to the work of the old masters.

Mr Collings expanded on this more personal perspective with some discussion of his own current work. This proved to be the source of the title of his talk and perhaps the most interesting segment for me as a graphic designer. Working with his partner and mosaic artist Emma Biggs he has been creating paintings composed of and concerned with colour. Exhibiting with his younger hip contemparies; Matthew felt his work was overlooked as the popular view of modern art considers the interest in colour to be elitist. Or in order to appreciate colour as art requires an education beyond what is availble to most.

This point confused me until I realised he was probably talking about colour being the subject of the art in contrast to a tool as I generally see it.

It should not matter to a designer such as myself that a client or consumer of their work doesn’t understand their masterful use of colour — as ignorance of the method doesn’t prevent the design having the desired effect. If I look at this from a nasty advertising perspective, it appears to be even desirable for the viewer of my design to not be aware of the mechanisms with which I am manipulating their senses. That way they are more likely to attribute the way the design made them feel to the product they are being sold rather than the colour of the poster. Naturally this is not a black and white issue (PNI) visual literacy is on the rise afterall.

Back at the lecture, Matthew kept me entertained and interested for the whole hour even if every now and them my mind was shooting off on exciting tangents. I was impressed by how he used humour. By loading his key points with a bit of wit he could gauge our understanding through our laughter. If we didn’t get it he would restate the idea with a different metaphor.

Thanks Matthew, I look forward to seeing more of your work be it on canvas, paper or TV. Although I hope you don’t get so popular here that I have to sit through manipulative ads to see you.

Oliver Boermans is a design geek in Adelaide, South Australia: is a place for Ollie to rant, reflect and share. Feed

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Making time
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Hail to the Thief