Color deceives

Next time you look at that ‘great deal’ of a shirt, realize that while it may look fashionably blue, it might run red.
Plate from Interaction of Color by Josef Albers (Yale University Press)

 In order to use color effectively, it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually. (Josef Albers)

Josef Alberswas a ground-breaking art educator, and he meant this in its most literal sense. He returned to the idea over and over, saying things like, “The concern of the artist is with the discrepancy between physical fact and psychological effect,” or “Every perception of colour is an illusion.”
Albers’ exercises from Interaction of Color still have much to offer. For its 50th anniversary, Yale University Press offered an app of the exercises from the book. Buy the book and use paint chips instead. Our retinal sensitivity runs into millions of different colors. Monitors aren’t nearly as sensitive, and they work on a different principle of color than printing or paints (additive rather than subtractive).
Plate from Interaction of Color by Josef Albers (Yale University Press)
Albers’ quote can be applied almost anywhere. Consider applying it to race relations. I’m not ‘white,’ any more than my friend Helen is ‘black.’ But we live in a world where color names are shorthand for our social stations, often wrong.
I found myself thinking about Alber’s dictum after reading excerptsfrom the Anti-Fashion Manifesto of trend forecaster Lidewij Edelkoort.
“How can a product that needs to be sown, grown, harvested, combed, spun, knitted, cut and stitched, finished, printed, labelled, packaged and transported cost a couple of Euros? On the hunt for cheaper deals, volume companies, but also some luxury brands, have trusted the making of their wages to underpaid workers living in dire conditions. What’s more, these prices imply the clothes are to be thrown away, discarded like a condom before being loved and savoured, teaching young consumers that fashion has no value.”
Plate from Interaction of Color by Josef Albers (Yale University Press)
We keep slaves like our 19th century ancestors did. We’ve just moved them to the other side of the world. Ironically and sadly, many of those slaves still work in the cotton fields.
“Children, especially girls, are employed by farmers in order to cut costs, as they are paid well below the minimum wage and the wages paid to adult workers,” reported the International Labor Rights Forum of India.
“The child workers are often in a state of debt bondage since their employers pay an advance to the children’s parents and then they must work to meet the amount paid. The children generally work at least nine hours a day, but during the winter, they often work up to 12 hours a day.”
Homage to the Square, 1965, Josef Albers
According to the Australian Walk Free Foundation, in 2016 there were 46 million people enslaved worldwide. Two-thirds are in Southeast Asia, which is where much of our cheap clothing is made.
The garment industry has a history of labor abuses, going back to the Napoleonic Wars. That doesn’t excuse our involvement.
We can’t avoid foreign-made goods. It’s difficult to determine what’s made by slave labor, since it infiltrates the high-end market as well as discount stores. Why not “buy a few remarkable things and wear the heck out of them,” as designer Jane Bartlettsuggested?
Next time you look at that ‘great deal’ of a shirt, realize that while it may look fashionably blue, it might run blood-red. As Josef Albers told us half a century ago, color deceives.