You are on page 1of 2

Tudor-Hart began with a detailed analysis and description of the spectral band of colors.

Part
of this process involved confirming the researches of Helmholtz.34 Tudor-Hart experimented
with complementaries, afterimage, the results of mixing colored pigments compared to colored
light (that is, subtractive versus additive color mixing), and other color phenomena, including
variations on James Maxwells discs.35 Using all of the data he compiled firsthand, Tudor-Hart
argued that sound and music did indeed operate in an analogous fashion, bolstering his assumption that they shared the same physical basis.
For Tudor-Hart, the world of noise was the equivalent of the world of sunlight. Within those
two worlds, sound was the equivalent of color. Extrapolating, he postulated that pitch in music
equaled luminosity in color, tone equaled hue, and intensity in music (designating strength or
weakness of sounds) equaled saturation or purity of color. To this he added the arbitrary belief
that the lower notes of the scale, A-flat, A, B-flat, and B, conveyed the emotions of melancholy
and sadness, as did blues and violets, colors that for Tudor-Hart equaled darkness. D-sharp, E,
and F conveyed an emotion of brightness and cheerfulness, as did yellow-orange, yellow, and
yellow-green, those colors which for Tudor-Hart equaled light. And, just as the chromatic scale
in music gives a running rhythm, so, too, did the colors of the spectrum.
Not only were Russell and Macdonald-Wright students of Tudor-Hart, they served, according to Stanton, as his lab assistants in preparing his complex experiments, resulting in familiarity with his theories. Issues of the most esoteric aspects of color (and therefore issues that
would have appealed greatly to Macdonald-Wright) were addressed: in what tonal range does
a given color appear most saturated; how does one accurately gauge the luminosity of a color
at a raised octave? Tudor-Hart provided answers to these questions. But most intriguing of all
to his ambitious American lab assistants, and the most applicable to their own pursuits in creating form with color, was Tudor-Harts version of the color keyboard.
Tudor-Hart postulated that just as octaves in music are based on regularly increased vibrations, an analogous phenomenon occurs with color:
This is of prime importance in the general analogy between sound and colour. In sound the
octaves rise in pitch from bass to treble, in a geometrical progression by a power of two, i.e.,
each octave has double the number of vibrations of the preceding one. We may express the
analogy thus. As sound rises in pitch, a note and its successive octaves appear to the senses
as equal intervals. The vibrations of these intervals increase in a geometrical progression.
Similarly as light increases from darkness the notes and their luminosity octaves appear to
the senses as equal intervals; and these intervals are constructed by increments of luminosity in a geometrical progression. 36
Again, Tudor-Hart expressed his belief that color and sound were perceived in the same
way, writing that luminosity octaves appear to the sense as equal intervals. What they
actually may be in the determinations of physics was not as important as how they appeared
to be, and thus how we think of them (i.e., colors) and how we use them. Tudor-Hart used
the spectrum as the basis of his color wheels (as most color theorists naturally did), and as
the basis of his color keyboard. The three primaries, their complements, and the colors in
between (the sharps and flats) conveniently established the conventional color wheel
a set of twelve colors (fig. 31), a number analogous to the twelve-tone scale (seven notes
with five sharps and flats) of Western music. Both Russell and Macdonald-Wright adopted
the use of color scales in their painting. Although Russell quit painting in scales altogether by
1916, Macdonald-Wright painted them faithfully until 1919 (returning to them regularly
and then fully in the last phase of his career), and he used them as the basis of his own 1924
treatise on color.

32

Color, Myth, and Music

Figure 31

Figure 32

Figure 33

Color Scales
For Tudor-Hart and his students, Macdonald-Wright and Russell, individual colors, whether
yellow or blue-violet, just like individual musical notes, could form the basis of a scale. The
crucial factor was to keep the intervals between the colors consistent, just as the intervals
between the notes of a musical scale are consistent. Tudor-Hart summarized this phenomenon: It will be found that the intervals between the colours are pleasant to the eye in
exactly the same degree as the sounds are to the ear [and] that each harmonic is in consonance with its fundamental colour, just as in sound each harmonic is in consonance
with its tone (or generating sound).37 Tudor-Hart created what he felt to be an
exact correspondence between all the notes of a keyboard and colors using a com-

Figure 34

Figure 35

Figure 31 Conventional color wheel.


The primaries are red, blue, and yellow;
the secondaries are orange, green, and
violet; and the tertiaries are mixtures of
the adjoining primaries and secondaries.
If colors are mixed with their complement
(the color lying directly opposite on the
wheel), a neutral gray is created. A
conventional triad is any three colors
equidistant from each other on the
wheel, such as the primaries red, blue,
and yellow. From Norma Flynn, Color
Mixing (1996)
Figure 32 Color wheel painted by
Macdonald-Wright. Together with two
other charts and two templates, it
accompanied each copy of his 1924
Treatise on Color. These color charts are a
record of what Macdonald-Wright
believed were the closest equivalents in
pigment to spectral color.
Figure 33 Seven tones are used in the
diatonic scale, which is the basis for much
of our traditional Western music. The seven
tones are arranged in a specific way: two
whole-step intervals; a half-step interval;
three whole-step intervals; a half-step
interval. With the inclusion of sharps and
flats, a twelve-tone scale is established.
Macdonald-Wright and Russell treated the
twelve colors on a color wheel like musical
notes, creating scales that had what they
felt to be an analogous system of intervals.

Figure 34 Along with the two color


wheels and the chart of neutralized
colors, Macdonald-Wright provided
templates in his Treatise on Color that
would automatically form color scales in
the proper intervals. Pictured here is a
template made by Macdonald-Wright,
laid over the color wheel. The steps
between colors are based on the intervals
used to form a major scale in Western
music (see fig. 33). Here, the color red is
the tonic note. Macdonald-Wright also
provided a template to form minor scales
and a color wheel of colors with raised
saturation. He was careful to note in his
Treatise that the use of scales should not
be understood as absolute, but rather as
a point of departure in learning about
color properties, both physical and
psychological.
Figure 35 Macdonald-Wright provided
this template to fit over the color wheel
and provide the artist with color
chords or triads. In keeping with
the musical scale analogy, these color
chords were built on the first, third, and
fifth of any given scale, just as a major
chord in music is built on the first, third,
and fifth notes of any given major scale.
Note that a triad for MacdonaldWright was not formed using equidistant
colors, as on the conventional color
wheel.

plex system of mathematical ratios. So complex was Tudor-Harts system that using
it to create a painting would have required hundreds of separate calculations. Yet it
was possible, following Tudor-Harts idea of the importance of intervals, to use the
color wheel alone with twelve colors and create scales. This was the path taken by MacdonaldWright and Russell.
Macdonald-Wrights claims as to the uniqueness of the synchromist painting method were
reported as early as 1913 in Los Angeles: Synchromism is an attempt to make of painting an

Synchromism: Theoretical Beginnings

33