Signs of disharmony: Newton's opticks and the artists

Perspectives on Science 16 (4):pp. 360-377 (2008)
Abstract
Newton’s Opticks was in no way directed at artists, but the great prestige of its author, as well as its proposal of possible principles of color-harmony, and its establishment of the circle as the most graphic format for illustrating color-relationships, ensured the book a place in the repertory of coloristic art-theory from the eighteenth century until the present day. And, although it was implicit rather than explicit in the Opticks, the idea of complementarity continued to fascinate painters well into the twentieth century. But in painting, the long-standing focus on chiaroscuro as the essential basis of pictorial structure inhibited the acceptance of the notion that colors are inherent in light alone; and Newton’s theory failed to make much headway against the traditional Aristotelianism, which was revived most eloquently by Goethe at the close of the eighteenth century. It was only two centuries later, in the new light-based art of holography, that the Opticks again became a text to conjure with.
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