50 SHADES OF ALMOST EVERYTHING


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Rest in peace Cadmium Yellow, Orange and Red (c.1829-2014). Your vibrant, exuberant and reliable reign is about to be brutally terminated. Cut down in your prime by colorless legislators in the European Union.

Cadmium pigment for oils, acrylic, and watercolor has been an ingredient of artists’ palettes since the 19th century, and prized for brilliance, intensity, and lightfastness.

The EU believes that suitable alternatives can be made or do exist. But what is wrong with something which has been used all these years? If it ain’t broke–don’t fix it.

The relatively high cost meant that few painters could afford to use it until World War 1. (Strangely, J.M.W. Turner, an often reckless dabbler in new media, doesn’t seem to have tried cadmium yellow.

It was used to paint vehicles, and to color soap,glass, jewelry, toys and later plastics. The most famous use of cadmium yellow was for the New York taxi. Whistler, Monet, Matisse, Munch, Picasso, Warhol, (and Kayti Rasmussen) have all relied on it.

Granted that the paint is dangerous if eaten or inhaled, but it does come with a warning, like all the other things government has taken away such as DDT, Diazinon, etc. It may be dangerous to open a can of Pillsbury biscuits, they do have a habit of exploding.
Painters use a relatively small amount of cadmium. They argue that the problem is caused by the industrial use of cadmium in batteries.

Could there be a puritanical motive in banning cadmium paints? Barnett Newman’s most famous work was the series of 1960’s murals titled “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue”. He was of course referring to cadmium red and yellow. The point he was trying to make is that people are afraid of large blocks of color, seeing them as hedonistic and frivolous.

For the past two decades the dominant color among designers has been gray (Fifty Shades of Grey), with black in the wings. Car manufacturers have had almost no need for cadmium yellow or red–practically everyone drives a black, grayish, or white car, often with dark tinted windows.

Mark Twain took a trip to India with his family who were dressed soberly in dark sensible colors. He was impressed to see Indian ladies in colorful sari, smiling at him as they passed by. Were they happy because they were wearing color, were his family unhappy because they weren’t? Who knows?

sea urchins

Looking around, I see that I am typing on a black keyboard, which is feeding into a black computer. I recently bought another pair of black pants to go with my other five pair of black pants. But I’m clinging to a bright cadmium orange top.

STYLE, TASTE AND CLASS


Style and taste are commodities people desire.  Style itself represents a deviation from the ordinary.  It has to stand apart from the world as it is given in order to qualify as style.  Clothing is a tool.  What one wears depends on whom one hopes to influence.  It sometimes signifies our station in life, such as our jewelry or the enormous hats worn by Queen Elizabeth which are so easily spotted in a crowd.

We all have style.  Style in our choice of clothing, style in our home decor, or in the food or artwork we create.  A painter, sculptor or writer develops an identifiable style.  That is frequently why people collect certain artist’s work; they like their style.  They can on occasion deviate from that comfort zone.  Writers such as John Grisham for instance, who habitually takes us on convoluted tales of courtroom drama, is also a great sports fan, and has occasionally abandoned that pattern and written equally fine stories involving both baseball and football heroes.

Teenagers of any era dress according to their “style”.  I attended a social function last week where an older woman sitting at my table was aghast at the short skirts the 13-14 year olds were wearing.  She proudly told me that her granddaughter dressed modestly with longer skirts and a higher neckline.  Well, good luck Grandma, wait until she goes to her first dance and sees what the other girls are wearing.

Taste is a quality determined by social mores.  There is “good” taste and “bad” taste.  But who determines which is which?  A woman wearing short shorts and go-go boots to a funeral would probably be considered dressed in bad taste by most of us.  But who came up with the idea that the simple black dress and pearls was the epitome of “good” taste?

To paraphrase Picasso:  Good fashion is the elimination of the unnecessary.”  The other guideline is “less is more”.  Good taste of course involves much more that the clothes on our backs.  It is evident in our speech, our homes, the gifts we present to others, etc.

If you met yourself today the way you looked twenty or thirty years ago would you recognize yourself?  We are all quite different year by year though we don’t see the difference until we see a photo, and then we either laugh ourselves silly, or quickly try to tear it up before anyone else can see it.

Now “class” is a whole other animal.  Style and taste can be acquired, but class is an intrinsic quality.  As Nathan Detroit said about class in Guys and Dolls:  You either got it or you ain’t.

But life is short, so my advice would be to follow your own White Rabbit.