See with your tongue.

“The language we speak affects half of what we see.” Such a topic has been discussed in Anthropological circles for years, but this article from the UC Berkeley News reveals a fascinating biological discovery: that one’s language literally affects half of the visual field.

The left hemisphere is considered responsible for language function, and it is also where information from the right eye is processed. It follows that the close proximity of these two areas would allow for greater influence between them than, say, language and left side of the visual field.

With further investigation, scientists began to sift through the effects of such a relationship. A larger variety of color is perceived for an observer whose language provides a larger color vocabulary, as if “linguistic distinction [sharpens] the perceptual difference between the colors themselves.” Furthermore, the variety of color perceived heightens when the variation occurs in the right half of the visual field.

What does this mean for artists?

I don’t think one needs to worry so much about that right-versus-left variation (though it is fascinating!). Hopefully many more minutes of careful observation are being spent than is necessary to work out colors. Besides, there’s bound to be some abstraction from reality as human perception is quite necessary to the visual arts, and that perception naturally varies by individual anyway. As Vincent Van Gogh once wrote:
“…I don’t care much whether my color is exactly the same, as long as it looks beautiful on my canvas, as beautiful as it looks in nature…[One] loses that general harmony of tones in nature by painfully exact imitation: one keeps it be recreating in a parallel color scale which may be not exactly, or even far from exactly, like the model.”

I believe the lesson here to be that extending one’s color vocabulary allows one to perceive more colors, and thus the artist has a larger variety of relationships from which to pick and choose. Introduce yourself to a few new names and perhaps you will perceive even more color harmonies in Nature.

Here’s a rather extensive color chart.


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