Perception, Colour & Language

liveinabin

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Oct 19, 2001
Messages
1,923
Likes
71
Points
79
#1
I heard someone mention yesterday the phrase from Homer, 'the wine-dark sea'. This has been quoted as suggesting that there was no word for blue in antiquity.
It was questioned that could it show a change in our perception overtime? He was not the only person to use this phrase to describe the sea.
My question further to this is art. Ask any decent artist and they can draw you a good representation of a human. However when we look back at art from 1000 years ago even the finest artist seem to not draw as well as an artist can today. Is this because of the style of the time or because people just didn't have the same level of perception as we do now? Or maybe the skills of drawing had just not developed?
 

liveinabin

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Oct 19, 2001
Messages
1,923
Likes
71
Points
79
#3
Mythopoeika said:
liveinabin1 said:
Is this because of the style of the time or because people just didn't have the same level of perception as we do now? Or maybe the skills of drawing had just not developed?
A combination of all of the above.
Thanks for clearing that up, as you were.
 

escargot

Beloved of Ra
Joined
Aug 24, 2001
Messages
23,466
Likes
15,530
Points
309
#4
Representation is culturally defined though. What we might recognise or need to see in a drawing of a human is probably very different from what the people who did the cave drawings would.

An artist can represent a person (or an animal, or a plant) with just a few lines. It is possible to argue that these few lines are enough - we have Man, or sabre-toothed tiger or whatever, in those few lines and anyrhing more is just detail.

Very early art is not inferior. It is like another language that we can't now understand. We can grasp those few lines though, and see what the artists saw.

I would LOVE to see the Lascaux cave paintings. They have fascinated me all my life. 8)
 
Last edited:

kamalktk

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Feb 5, 2011
Messages
4,123
Likes
4,309
Points
159
#5
Now we stand on the shoulders of giants. I remember from my art history class learning about a clear progression in increasing realism as artists slowly figured out things such as perspective. The artists of today may be able to paint more realistic 2d representations of 3d scenes, but that's because they have learned the rules their predecessors figured out for themselves.

Also, greek Mavrodaphne wine is dark purple http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mavrodafni, and is suggested here: http://www.nytimes.com/1983/12/20/science/homer-s-sea-wine-dark.html
 
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
12,047
Likes
127
Points
114
#6
liveinabin1 said:
I heard someone mention yesterday the phrase from Homer, 'the wine-dark sea'. This has been quoted as suggesting that there was no word for blue in antiquity.
It was questioned that could it show a change in our perception overtime? He was not the only person to use this phrase to describe the sea.
My question further to this is art. Ask any decent artist and they can draw you a good representation of a human. However when we look back at art from 1000 years ago even the finest artist seem to not draw as well as an artist can today. Is this because of the style of the time or because people just didn't have the same level of perception as we do now? Or maybe the skills of drawing had just not developed?
Thought about this exact example a while back. Met theosophists who insisted that the ancient Greeks had less developed colour perception than us more spiritually and perceptually developed modern types. However, thinking about it. We only really see wine as 'red' or 'white' because we keep it in glass containers and drink it from glass. The Ancients did have glass, but usually they would drink wine from clay, leather, or metal vessels. Red wine would look dark under those circumstances. Especially at night, by the light of flickering oil lamps and fires, when poets are declaiming at their best.

A quick look at recovered polychromatic paintings from Ancient Egypt, or even better, the wonderfully lively wall paintings of Ancient Knossos, would show that perceptually the ancients were at least as advanced as us.

As to tricks of depth in paintings. The Ancient Greeks and Romans were doing some wonderful tricks with, Trompe-l'œil fresco painting, to make rooms look bigger and suggest vistas of gardens, lakes and mountains, two thousand years ago, or more.
 

Gwenar

Junior Acolyte
Joined
Nov 14, 2012
Messages
88
Likes
1
Points
14
#7
I think some of the inferior art liveinabin is referencing was not art for art's sake, but art as information. And, the smaller the work, the simpler it had be. So you have characters drawn in uncomfortable positions to show dress and headdress using simple lines, and the size and position of each characters is symbolic.

I agree about Lascaux and Knossos. When they were fresh, there might have been even more depth. The wall decorations in the palace were definitely done for pleasure. When information isn't being conveyed, the artist has freedom to paint what he sees.
 

Anome

Bibliomancer
Joined
May 23, 2002
Messages
5,464
Likes
426
Points
164
Location
Left, and to the Back
#8
Pietro_Mercurios said:
[However, thinking about it. We only really see wine as 'red' or 'white' because we keep it in glass containers and drink it from glass. The Ancients did have glass, but usually they would drink wine from clay, leather, or metal vessels. Red wine would look dark under those circumstances. Especially at night, by the light of flickering oil lamps and fires, when poets are declaiming at their best.
This has always bothered me. Disclaimer: I haven't read Homer, and especially not in the original Greek. But the choice of words is interesting. It's not "wine coloured", but "wine dark". Red wine is certainly dark. Especially under the circumstances Pietro mentions above. The sea can also be dark, especially at night or in stormy conditions. Plus, it's poetry. The point of poetry is to find imagery and language that evokes, rather than describes.

Finally, Homer is generally thought to have been blind, anyway. So he wouldn't know the difference between a dark wine and a dark sea. They're both wet. He didn't say "wine flavoured" or "wine scented".
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
33,030
Likes
17,306
Points
309
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
#9
liveinabin1 said:
Mythopoeika said:
liveinabin1 said:
Is this because of the style of the time or because people just didn't have the same level of perception as we do now? Or maybe the skills of drawing had just not developed?
A combination of all of the above.
Thanks for clearing that up, as you were.
Did you want me to ramble on about it or just put it in a nutshell? 8)
 

OneWingedBird

Beloved of Ra
Joined
Aug 3, 2003
Messages
15,329
Likes
5,921
Points
284
#11
I was on a first aid course on Monday where the tutor asked the class what colour they thought blood was before it was oxygenated.

So i said blue, knowing it isn't literally blue but it does get called that... however apparently it is dark red now. The tutor said that people only thought it was blue because science teachers took the diagrams in their books too literally and told people that. :?
 

Analogue Boy

The new Number 6
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
9,113
Likes
6,443
Points
294
#12
liveinabin1 said:
It was questioned that could it show a change in our perception overtime? He was not the only person to use this phrase to describe the sea.
My question further to this is art. Ask any decent artist and they can draw you a good representation of a human. However when we look back at art from 1000 years ago even the finest artist seem to not draw as well as an artist can today. Is this because of the style of the time or because people just didn't have the same level of perception as we do now? Or maybe the skills of drawing had just not developed?
I'd be interested in how well you can draw and what your perception of good art is liveinabin1. Early cave paintings like those in Lascaux are elegant and stylised. The level of sophistication is what you'd usually see developing after artists learn to portay their subjects more realistically. These aren't the images a child would draw. For instance, they used an occlusion technique to differentiate the legs on the far side from those on the front. A child would draw a body and 4 legs in a row hanging off it.

It's been suggested that these early artists were capturing the spirit of these animals in the hope they'd become more prolific in the real world.
The cave as birth chamber.
People who have seen these paintings on the wall have described how they almost look like animation in a flickering light.
So they had a grasp of how to produce a sophisticated image but when it came to depicting fellow humans, what we see is so different they could be described as the first cartoons.

Of course the level of art relies on the availability of tools, materials and pigments.
Light and location are just as important but pale into insignificance against the luxury of time to develop the skills. The fact these exist at all shows the value placed on art by a people struggling to survive day to day.

Compare this to the luxury of time, all available materials and the ton of cash Damien Hirst has. All he produces is pretty shit.
 

Analogue Boy

The new Number 6
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
9,113
Likes
6,443
Points
294
#14
Monstrosa said:
Liveinabin1 never mentioned Lascaux, that was Scarg.
That's missing the point of the example of early man/woman adopting a stylistic approach to the world around him/her.

I asked for liveinabin's perception of what good art is as it could be argued that appreciation of art by today's mass culture could be on more simplistic and less sophisticated terms than earlier in our history.

The amount of times I've heard ' That's so good - it's almost real' as a comment shows that some can be superficially overwhelmed by technique but fail to get any meaning or form any sort of relationaship with other pieces.

Lascaux is a great example and totally relevant to liveinabin's question... If Scarg hadn't brought it up, I would.

Edit... If you want realism from antiquity, just look at some of the sculptures from ancient Greece or Rome. No lack of talent there - even by today's standards.
 

liveinabin

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Oct 19, 2001
Messages
1,923
Likes
71
Points
79
#15
OK, my background is that I did a small amount of art history as part of my degree, but I have forgotten all of it. Mr Cake is a trained artist and illustrator. I was taught to draw by my uncle who is an art professor.

What I am talking about is not actual art that you may see in a gallery, but more sketches. Ask Mr Cake to draw a person from life and he will draw an accurate representation of a person with all the correct proportions etc.
I'm not saying that an accurate drawing is better or more valid than any other, what I am asking is could the medieval artist draw in 'realistic' style but then chose to draw in the way that they did because that was the style of the time, or was that how they interpreted the world as they saw it?

This question wasn't meant to be about art and it's validity but about human perception of the world around them. What I consider to be 'good art' isn't the question. That said, I agree that Damien Hurst is shit, you can keep your Tracey Emin as well.
 

Analogue Boy

The new Number 6
Joined
Aug 10, 2005
Messages
9,113
Likes
6,443
Points
294
#16
We tend to think Ancient People were less intelligent than we are today but I think that's down to less factual information to work with. After all, Eratosthenes accurately calculated the circumference of the earth.
As Pietro has pointed out, the Trompe l'oeil perspective technique was used in temples and villas at the time so they had a grasp of perspective and confidently played around with it.

Going further back, we see how Ancient Egyptians filled the walls with stylistic heiroglyphs but were capable of producing likenesses like this...



And while we may consider the Middle Ages iconography a little crude, Durer's Young Hare shows how realistically they studied life.

I've already mentioned the realism of Greek and Roman statues and busts and their creators must have used sketches before committing to these and as I say, the luxury of time (and life expectancy) to develop a skill plays a crucial part.
When we're looking at drawings from antiquity, we're seeing stylisation in many cases and not primitive naivety.

That's my two penn'orth.

edit.... Oh...as for Homer's description of the 'wine-dark sea'...
That could also be a colloquial reference to the effects of having too much to drink and staggering around on board a ship like a drunk. Probably not, but it's possible.
 

Ermintruder

Existential pixelfixer
Joined
Jul 13, 2013
Messages
4,983
Likes
6,006
Points
209
#18
Facinating article. Thanks for posting it, and for reactivating this very-worthwhile thread.

But...if blue is the new blue, what about blueberries/blaeberries? And Harald "Blåtand"/'Bluetooth' Gormsson? Or azure, in heraldry?

I accept these are all Anno Domini/Common Era instances, and the Homeric 'blue blindness' hypothesis is set many generations prior to this, but I'm not entirely-convinced that eg blue topaz /lapis lazuli/sapphires were totally unknown to the ancients (or the pre-Romano classical scholars)
 

Xanatic*

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Mar 10, 2015
Messages
2,839
Likes
2,110
Points
154
#19
There is an error in the article. While there are no blue mammals, there are still blue animals. Kingfishers for example.
 

Min Bannister

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Sep 5, 2003
Messages
3,437
Likes
2,752
Points
184
#21
Yes, lots of blue birds, fish and sea creatures. And wild flowers. In fact I am pretty sure it comes up in nature a lot. Land mammals probably don't go in for blue much as it would be rubbish camouflage.

There is, of course, the sky, but is that really blue?


Not where I live it isn't. Likewise the sea comes up all kinds of colours, including red. One of my earliest existential ponderings has been whether other people see colour the way I do but not quite the way described here. More that when I see red, does another person see what I would see as blue. Etc. I still find it an interesting question.
 

Coal

Polymath Renaissance Man, Italian Wiccan Anarchist
Joined
Jun 27, 2015
Messages
8,290
Likes
9,509
Points
279
#22
Not where I live it isn't. Likewise the sea comes up all kinds of colours, including red. One of my earliest existential ponderings has been whether other people see colour the way I do but not quite the way described here. More that when I see red, does another person see what I would see as blue. Etc. I still find it an interesting question.
I think Pirsig went over that in ZATAOMCM, but it's a fair point. I vaguely recall an African tribe who don't have words for some of the colours we take for granted and it appeared to change their perception of colour. In the end what the we see is interpreted by the brain, so if you spend your formative years being told "orange is red" you might well see (what we call) orange as red and an orange on a red tablecloth might be hard for you to resolve.
 

graylien

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Jul 31, 2004
Messages
4,229
Likes
2,531
Points
169
#23
There was that dress wasn't there? Blue and black or white and gold.

I bought some light orange paint once which turned out to be salmon pink when I painted my flat with it. (It was called something unhelpful like Dawn Blossom or some such nonsense.)

I also bought a dark orange carpet that turned out to be darkish pink when liberated from the dimly lit carpet shop.

Basically things keep surprising me by being pink.
 

skinny

Antediluvian
Joined
May 30, 2010
Messages
5,963
Likes
4,883
Points
234
#24
I'm always being corrected by my wife and kids on whether things are blue black red purple or what have you. I don't think I'm colourblind. Colour-confused perhaps.

On the OP's point though, if perception has enhanced since the ancients allowing us to more closely / accurately reproduce an apparent reality, that may not be a physical shift so much as a social one. I'm regularly struck by the variety of perception of events and things. My way of perceiving something may be mundane and shared by most around me, but often I'm tripped out by the other points of view. I like a variety of styles of art and music for this reason. One common sample in case is the perception of the starfield. On another thread I posted about my capacity to perceive the depths, layers and fields of distance in the starfield at night, yet others see only the 2 dimensional blanket effect. I'd assume that this variance of perception has always been part of our experience as a species. Maybe we never got the alternatives as much, as the official historical recordings and expressions of perception had so often been the sole and exclusive domain of those damned bureaucrats.
 
Last edited:

Xanatic*

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Mar 10, 2015
Messages
2,839
Likes
2,110
Points
154
#25
Our perception of a colour also depends on the immediate colours surrounding it. I think that was the case with that dress. As a typical guy, I also just know the more common colour names. I'm not sure what mauve or teal looks like. I don't know if that would make it harder for me to distinguish them.
 

Mythopoeika

I am a meat popsicle
Joined
Sep 18, 2001
Messages
33,030
Likes
17,306
Points
309
Location
Inside a starship, watching puny humans from afar
#26
I had a discussion with a colleague at work years ago, about whether a certain thing was more green or more blue.
Can't remember what the item was, but hey ho...
I contended that the item was more blue and he disagreed. This is a man who liked to win arguments with words rather than facts...so I got onto the graphics software on my PC and did a colour match by eye.
Then I announced that I was right after looking at the RGB value. :cool:
He was somewhat annoyed that I'd used such a rational method of proving my point. 'You can't do that, get onto some software and then announce you're right' - haha, I just did, buster.
 

Krepostnoi

Crabbier than usual
Joined
Jul 9, 2012
Messages
2,381
Likes
3,852
Points
159
#27
I had a discussion with a colleague at work years ago, about whether a certain thing was more green or more blue.
Can't remember what the item was, but hey ho...
I contended that the item was more blue and he disagreed. This is a man who liked to win arguments with words rather than facts...so I got onto the graphics software on my PC and did a colour match by eye.
Then I announced that I was right after looking at the RGB value. :cool:
He was somewhat annoyed that I'd used such a rational method of proving my point. 'You can't do that, get onto some software and then announce you're right' - haha, I just did, buster.
You're assuming your eye gave the correct match, though o_O Could have been more wine-dark in reality...

Did anybody manage to depict a galloping horse correctly before Muybridge's photographs?
 

eburacum

Papo-furado
Joined
Aug 26, 2005
Messages
2,919
Likes
879
Points
129
#28
There is an error in the article. While there are no blue mammals, there are still blue animals. Kingfishers for example.
Blue mammal.
Mandrills are close enough to humans to share at least some of our colour sensitivity, it seems.
 

oldrover

Justified & Ancient
Joined
Oct 18, 2009
Messages
3,918
Likes
1,278
Points
159
#29
You're assuming your eye gave the correct match, though o_O Could have been more wine-dark in reality...

Did anybody manage to depict a galloping horse correctly before Muybridge's photographs?
Not really. In fact historically horses have never been terribly accurately depicted still or moving. In paint or sculpture. Either terribly over stylised, Stubbs, the Parthenon Frieze. Or just not well observed and executed.

I think this Caravaggio is a rare exception to this;



Which I think is pretty much as good as it gets. He only worked from life. I have a nasty suspicion that the model for this may well have been a dead animal suspended.

Horses' heads are horribly hard things to depict. They're so familiar to us that we think we know exactly what they look like. So we switch of our observation to an extent and revert back to our preconceptions. Leading to manner of cock ups.
 
Top