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Unable to accept the simple mappings between color and sound proposed, some have argued that only through some higher law are the senses united.

    Before we proceed to the moral associations of colour, and the aesthetic influences arising from them, we have here to say a few words on its relation to melody. That a certain relation exists between the two, has been always felt; this is proved by the frequent comparisons we meet with, sometimes as passing allusions, sometimes as circumstantial parallels. The error which writers have fallen into in trying to establish this analogy we would thus define:

    Colour and sound do not admit of being directly compared together in any way, but both are referable to a higher formula, both are derivable, although each for itself, from the higher law. They are like two rivers which have their source in one and the same mountain, but subsequently pursue their way under totally different conditions in two totally different regions, so that throughout the whole course of both no two points can be compared. both are general, elementary effects acting according to the general law of separation and tendency to union, of undulation and oscillation, yet acting thus in wholly different provinces, in different modes, on different elementary mediums, for different senses.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colours 1840, 298-299

    Although light and sound are similar in certain respects, it is generally agreed that the attempts to formulate a system of color music based on the musical scale have been faulty and unsuccessful. The originators of these systems have generally not considered the limitations of the analogy, the essential differences between the ear and the eye and other factors. Despite these failures, it is agreed that an art of mobile color similar to music would be possible if this art were based on the same structural principles as music but developed according to the laws governing the eye and light.

Maitland Graves, The Art of Color and Design 1951, 411

    There is a common structural basis of all kinds of sensations. We have a faculty of perceiving structural qualities common in sight, hearing ,tough, and taste. Sight and hearing particularly show an inexhaustible reservoir of interchangeable structure of sensations. The sensations may call forth intensive emotional response, without rising into consciousness. Painters, musicians, poets, and scientists, aware of the significance and creative potentialities inherent in this structural correspondence, searched and worked for a creative control, for a synchronisation of the senses. Goethe made important contributions. A. W. Schlegel, the German romanticist of the early nineteenth century, invented a scale of colors corresponding to human vowels, and he attributed a special significance to every particular conjunction of the vowel color. “A” represents the light clear red, and signifies youth, friendship, radiance. “I” stands for celestial blue, symbolizing love. “O” is purple, “V” stands for violet, etc. Recent scientific research offered new important data. Von Hornbostal made extensive study of the common factor of the different sensory data. He states his finding in one of the experiments as follows: “To a particular smell, say benzol, the correspondingly bright gray is chosen on the color disc, and to the same smell, from the series of tuning forks, the correspondingly bright tone.” Franz Boas brings observations from another field. He writes:

    “Most of us will feel that a high pitch and exaggerated length, perhaps also the vowel i (English ee) indicate smallness, while low pitch and length and the vowels a, o, u (English oo) indicate large size...Large or small size, or intensity may be expressed by variations of sound. Thus Nez Perce, and Indian language spoken in Idaho, changes n to l to indicate smallness; Dakota has many words in which s changes to sh, or z or j, indicating greater intensity...Undoubtedly the particular kind of synesthesia between sound, sight and touch has played its role in the growth of language.”

Gyorgy Kepes, Language of Vision 1944, 167

Copyright 1998–2001 Fred Collopy. This document was last updated on 10/14/01; it is located at