Goethe’s Color Theory: Artists And Thinkers

Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe is perhaps Germany’s greatest poet and writer, best known for Faust.  Not so well known is Goethe’s theory of color (which claimed insights that could refute Newton).  Like many artists, Goethe isolated the effect color has in terms of experience, making profound observations on refraction…for example…but for which he didn’t have a workable theoretical framework.  To this, a certain type of philosopher might say:  he ignored the fact that his thoughts and his senses combine to form experience.

Goethe from Steiner, from wikipedia:

The colours therefore, to begin with, make their appearance purely and simply as phenomena at the border between light and dark…”

Colours arise at the borders, where light and dark flow together.”

Click here for a visual representation.

Goethe seems to have thought of light and dark in terms of a metaphysical dualism, from whose interaction color is born.

Newton held that white light passing through a prism is diffused into its various wavelengths.  He also may have steered the discussion into wave-particle duality.

See Also: Wikipedia’s article, Physics Today article on his experiments, Goethe’s color triangle.

Some Differences Between Newton And Goethe: Theories Of Light


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