The Idea of Colour: Newton’s Skeleton, Goethe’s Gentle Empiricism and Olafur Eliasson’s “Room for One Colour” Dave Kemp (Ryerson University)

What is Colour? On the surface this may seem like a rather simplistic question — after all, colour is something we all know and experience on a daily basis — however, an understanding of what colour really is, is far from simple. The perception of colour is particular case, where neither an explicit, scientific approach (Newton), nor an experiential, tacit approach (Goethe), will result in a full understanding of the phenomena. Instead, a composite approach is required.

This paper will explore the advantages and limitations of both approaches, as well as considering commingled alternatives, such as Alva Noë’s model of Active Perception. Additionally, experiential artworks, such as Olafur Eliasson’s Room for One Colour, will be examined as a means for the viewer to gain a greater tacit understanding of phenomena such as colour, while at the same time developing a deeper understanding about the nature of their own perception.


Dave Kemp is a visual artist whose practice looks at the intersections and interactions between art, science and technology: particularly at how these fields shape our perception and understanding of the world. His artworks have been exhibited widely at venues such as at the McIntosh Gallery, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Gallery of Mississauga, The Ontario Science Centre, York Quay Gallery, Interaccess, Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, and as part of the Switch video festival in Nenagh, Ireland. His works are also included in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Canada Council Art Bank.

Dave obtained his PhD in Art and Visual Culture from the University of Western Ontario and is a graduate from the Master of Visual Studies program at the University of Toronto where he also completed the Collaborative Program in Knowledge Media Design. Prior to this, he earned an Image Arts (photography) BFA from Ryerson University and his BScE in Mechanical Engineering at Queen’s University. He currently works as an Assistant Professor in the Image Arts program at Ryerson University.