Experience has taught us that certain combinations of colors, whether in nature or art, affect the eye and mind agreeably, while others give offense. We call the former "harmonies," the latter "discords."
Just as numerous attempts have been made to discover the laws of light and of color vision, and to invent practical systems of color measurement and notation, great effort has been expended in trying to ferret out the reasons why some combinations of color are pleasing and others are not, and to devise laws to insure harmonious color employment. We have finally learned, however, that even if it were possible to grasp all such reasons, workable laws guaranteeing immunity against chromatic discord still could not be devised.
In view of the contrary claims of some writers, we offer the following arguments to substantiate our statement.
First, as we have demonstrated, colors change in effect according to their environment, each hue being modified by those adjacent to it. Color harmony is not merely a matter of selection, therefore, but also of arrangement a fact not nearly as commonly recognized as it should be. A color scheme extremely pleasing to the average person can become, in rearrangement, positively disturbing. Arrangement obviously cannot be controlled wholly by rule at least in representational paintings.
Area, like arrangement, influences color appearances, as we have seen. Harmonious schemes can often be made discordant, or at least uninteresting, simply by increasing or decreasing certain color areas. Of course, the reverse is also true. It is easy to see that a small spot of vivid red, which delightfully reinforces, through contrast, a large area of bright green, might, if sufficiently expanded, rival the green, causing a disturbing division of interest. But there are no arbitrary rules to be followed with regard to area and color harmony.
Nor are there definite laws governing the use of such phenomena when alternating bands of complementary colors were viewed from a certain distance. Yet effects such as this are capable of making some schemes disagreeable and others pleasing or telling.
Texture, although not a quality of color, is another influence that can seldom be ignored. In architecture and decoration, for example, materials harmonious in color often show textural inconsistency or discord. A mere coating of varnish, changing dull woodwork to shiny, can be enough to upset a scheme completely. Even in painting pictures, textural harmony is almost as important as color harmony the two are closely wedded yet there are no clear cut laws.
Color fitness or suitability must also be considered, as must that ever present matter of personal taste. After all, who is to say which colors harmonize and which do not? We have all seen that changing fashions can have a considerable effect on the average person`s ideas of what colors are or are not attractive and suitable for particular purposes, especially in relation to women`s clothing and interior decoration. There are also, as we are all aware, attitudes toward particular colors and color combinations that stem from temperament, national traditions, climate, environment and other unpredictable factors.
This should be enough to warn the student against the exaggerated statements of writers who claim or imply that their methods or systems of obtaining color harmony are infallible or universally applicable. Printed laws and clever devices designed to reveal color schemes can certainly be of help, but only in a very limited way.