A Lack of Color

So last time we scratched the surface of the realm of color and how much meaning it can give to a work of art. But a great deal of art is produced with little to no color at all, such as sculpture, drawings, and prints among others. Let’s take a look at a few beautiful works and see how much emotion and power can be conveyed in pure grayscale…

  • Dorothea Lange – Migrant Mother

Dorothea Lange, Migrant Mother, 1936

This iconic photograph captures the struggles of a migrant working family in California during the Great Depression, and it has come to symbolize the emotional trauma experienced by millions of Americans during this disastrous decade. The mother bears a worried, tense expression as she looks out into the distance, but her central position framed by the bowed heads of her children emphasize her role as the protector and provider trying to keep her family afloat. In this case, the lack of color highlights the family’s poverty and contributes to the bleak mood of the portrait. However, it also gives the mother a sense of dignity and timelessness, removed from the immediate setting and situation in which she finds herself. This makes the figures seem symbolic of mothers who struggle through adversity and do the best they can for their children, adding to the power of this photograph.

What are your thoughts on the visual effects of black-and-white photography?

  • Rembrandt van Rijn – The Hundred Guilder Print: Christ Healing the Sick
Rembrandt, The Hundred Guilder Print,

Rembrandt, The Hundred Guilder Print, 1647-49

Rembrandt’s Hundred Guilder Print is so named because prints were purchased for a little over a hundred guilders, which was a fortune in the Dutch Republic at the time. This impressive work uses the density and thickness of its lines to produce powerful effects of light and shadow, moving from areas of darkness on the right side of the painting to progressively lighter figures and shapes on the left, some of which consist merely of outlines, like the well-dressed man in the left corner. The radiating beams of light streaming from the figure of Christ spread throughout the painting as the most important source of light, referencing the spiritual illumination provided by the presence of Christ. In this case, the absence of color gives added power to the impressive contrasts of white on black, juxtaposing two pure extremes that creates a powerful visual impact.

For me, these two works highlight the emotional power of black-and-white representations. What else do you think of when you look at works in black-and-white?

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One thought on “A Lack of Color

  1. Pingback: Cracking the Code: A Series | The Art of Looking

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