So, I’ve had my head deep in some books lately, in preparation for this TEDx speech I’m giving at the end of June. It’s been very interesting to revisit the subject of costume design from an outside perspective. In the talk, I’m trying to explain the concept of clothing as a visual language – one that we all speak, in various dialects. A red dress to you may mean a very different kind of red dress to me. So how do we talk about visual language with any real meaning? Here’s where the following books come in handy.
This book is a mind-boggler about color. He talks about the nature of color, what it is, how it works, and what it means. I can read this book (which is thin, mind you) only in small doses. Every few paragraphs, I have to stop and think about what he’s said. Example:
III – 161. The pure saturated colors are essentially characterized by a certain relative lightness. Yellow, for example, is lighter than red. Is red lighter than blue? I don’t know.
III – 167. What is the experience that teaches me that I differentiate between red and green?
Heady stuff, Frocktalkers. When you start thinking about something as seemingly simple as color in these terms, it compels you to think about the rest of the visual language of our lives that we take for granted. Who taught us how to interpret clothing? Who or what allowed us to derive meaning from garments? What conclusions from all of this have morphed into truths have we told ourselves about this visual language? Have we limited ourselves by these definitions?
Goethe, a poet better known for Faust, delves into the emotional resonance of color. Published in 1810 (!) he talks about the ways in which colors affect us, and the way that complementary colors (as well as light and darkness) work with each other to provide us with feeling. Many people find this book a frustrating puzzle. I will say that you need to put on your patient pants before reading it. He makes some interesting points, for sure!
This book is about “the power of thinking without thinking”. What can be ascertained about something (or someone) in the blink of an eye? How long does it take to make an impression? Well, as it turns out – only a few seconds. In something described as “rapid cognition”, we are able to make judgments about people (their character, their background, their essence) without actually thinking about it. I find this book fascinating because this is what costume as a visual language is all about. Most people don’t check their thoughts – they go through this “rapid cognition” and accept it as truth – their first impression is their truth. It’s something that, on one hand, we use as costume designers. And it’s also something, on the other hand, that we should not do, if we intend to be more perceptive and understanding (and thus, better at our work as costume designers).
If you are interested in these books, they are widely available at public libraries. I have really enjoyed delving deeper into the philosophy and meaning of what we do. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts, if any of you have read these books. I got a lot out of them!
Have a great week, everyone!