Like light passing through a prism, colour enters our lives in ways both predictable and unexpected. Colour can reflect or change our mood, and it can instantly conjure memories of a particular event or season. On a more practical level, most of us expect that consumer items, from cars to cell phones, will be available in different colours. Colour adds a certain, well, colour to our lives.
Colour also filters into an array of disciplines in multifaceted ways. In the natural sciences, colour influences the perpetuation of species and is often crucial to their survival, and changes in colour are often used as indicators of chemical reactions. Political parties, governments, sports teams, and other groups frequently use colours—and the varied cultural associations they have accrued—to create a sense of identity and define “insiders” and “outsiders.” Colour is also intimately connected with constructions of racial and ethnic categories and continues to be used as a marker of “difference” and a basis for racism. In many disciplines, colour is an aesthetic consideration. Artists, authors, and film directors use colour as a motif in their work, and musicians compose pieces inspired by colour. Lastly, underpinning all of these facets of colour is the fact that what we see of colour is not an external reality but a subjective reaction based on the brain’s calculations and our own perceptions.
This year Augustana has chosen colour as its annual theme. There are a number of events and faculty talks that we are planning, to which everyone is warmly invited. Faculty will be speaking about a wide range of issues within the colour theme. We will hear about the basic physics of colour and how different colours are produced. We will also learn how colour combinations make the Rubik’s Cube so frustrating and how colour plays a role in the study of subnuclear particles.
A mathematics talk will address a question known as the four-colour problem. Are four colours sufficient for making a geographical map such that no two regions sharing a common boundary on the map, no matter how complex, have the same colour?
Another talk will provide an overview of how the brain calculates colour. This approach goes well beyond the conventional theory about how we see colour. Some of you may remember the Second Thought column by Professor Tim Parker on the infamous blue-and-black (or was that gold-and-white?) dress that was the focus of much media attention last year.
Fine Arts professors will also give talks on the aesthetics of colour. We will learn about the history of colour in art and film culture and, in particular, the use of colour to create a depth of darkness and an expression of threat and peril. In addition, the music division is sponsoring concerts and lecture recitals devoted to the notion of “musical colour,” including a performance at the Lougheed Centre’s Cargill Theatre by singer-songwriter and motivational speaker Garth Prince, who was raised in Namibia.
As you can see, the Theme Committee is planning many colourful occasions. Please consider this your invitation to attend these events. More information about the dates of the faculty talks and theme events can be obtained by visiting http://www.augustana.ualberta.ca/theme or calling the Reception Desk at 780-679-1100. See you on campus!
Deanna V. Mason, English, Augustana Faculty, University of Alberta. This column originally appeared in the Camrose Booster on October 4th, 2016.