Color: A Natural History of the Palette

Personally, this was a very important book because through out my years studying art, it was the most highly recommended (though non-required) book by pretty much every single one of my instructors. There was one teacher in particular who read a passage from this book to every one of this classes. The passage was about the color yellow, and it is one of the most powerful passages you may ever have heard. Of course, this teacher is the sexiest live narrator I have ever met - he could read the phone book and it would give you goose bumps.
While most college professors will recommend outside reading to their students, it isn't often that the students will go out and read the book. That wasn't the case with this book, which is surprising because it's somewhat pricey for a struggling college students' budget (though nowhere near the price of a textbook, it's still an added expense considering art students are often restocking their supplies - so give the kids a break) The mere fact that I waited to find it at the public library (and it's taken me this long) with well worn, coffee stained pages says everything.

This book is for anyone who is an artist, enjoys art museums, enjoys natural history museums, or enjoys art & natural history museums. If you've ever looked at a painting and thought something besides "what was the artist thinking when he made this?" but wondered where the colors came from, then this is definitely the book you should be reading. It's something we often take for granted, the idea that paints and pencils might come from somewhere besides the art supply store. As Art students, we are taught early on that the cave painters were the greatest artists of all - not because of their accuracy and skill to recreate images, but because of their innovation and creativity. The fact that colors have histories of their own is something we almost always over look. It takes a rather huge leap to create something as humble as the color blue, as Tracy Chevalier's readers already know something about.
In fact, if any of this information was old to me, it's in part because of Art History classes and Tracy Chevalier's novels. But neither of those have covered as much information as this book.
The history of some pigments and minerals that we use in art today are often political and a little dull, but a lot are nothing of the sort. Many are just ghastly. For instance, there is a brown that is made from dead bodies - dead human bodies - traditionally mummies (or redheaded young men). There is a popular hue of red that is still made from crushed bugs (which is also used in red lipstick and Cherry Coke - don't fret, though. It's Organic.) There are pigments that have started wars, or nearly started wars. There are tales of pirates, Queens, lovers, mad scientists - everything that good, "colorful" stories should have. (a-hyuck-hyuck!)
I am totally with my teachers on this - it's a great book, and it should be on every artists' or art appreciators shelf, and everyone else should just read it.

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