John O’ Donohue and The Beauty of Colour

“Colour is not a cloak worn by an object; each colour is generated and shows the vulnerability of an object: Its being-seen-ness.”

“One of the great illusions of human vision is that there is stillness, yet what seems still to our eyes is in fact never still. The whole physical world is in a state of permanent vibration and change.”

“What we see, we see in light; yet what we see is always partial, a selection from the full spectrum of what is there but not visible to us. There is a real world of invisible light here around us but we cannot see it. Though we feel at home and sure in the visible world, it is in truth a limited place. Visible light comprises only one tenth of the whole light spectrum. When we see the whole flow of visible light together, it is white.”

“The very thereness of a flower or a stone is an act of resistance to light, and colour is the fruit of this resistance. The colours we cannot see are the ones the object absorbs. The colour it rejects is, ironically, the one in which we see it dressed. For instance, a rose aborbs yellow and blue, and it rejects red. So we see a rose as red… While the object resists the light, the object is also penetrated by the light… The beauty of colour is an intricate play of presence and absence.”

  • Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (John O’ Donohue)

I found this whole chapter titled The Colour of Beauty so eye opening. He goes on to say that, “Throughout the history of colour there has always been the suspicion that colours belonged only to the surface. Deep down everything was dark and black… Dwelling constantly in such a world of darkness (as the ancients lived), it is no wonder that sun and moon in their bright journeying would appear to be deities… Darkness is the great canvas against which Beauty becomes visible. Darkness withholds presence; it resists the beam of eye-light and deepens the mystery…. Colours are the deeds and sufferings of light.”

He then goes on to detail the “shadow between the light” and how each colour was given a revelatory meaning that frames much of our common phrasing still today (think of whites association with purity, or the phrases “green with envy” or “out of the blue” or even the notion of “the blues” or “painting the town red”). He speaks of black representing hunger for colour as it is the outer surface “behind which colours secretly dwell.” He speaks of the passions of red as a “threshold colour encompassing beginnings and endings, purification and pollution. Green is associated with growth, hope and relentless desire to live within the threshold of the passions. Yellow is a measure of delight. Blue the measure of the expanse and of distance that hold earth and sky, night and day in its grasp.

As he says, “colour is the clothing of beauty”, reminding us that “no color stands alone” and that “each single colour emerges in a dance where its other sustaining partners are invisible… we are shown just enough to imagine everything else.”

Published by davetcourt

I am a 40 something Canadian with a passion for theology, film, reading writing and travel.

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