Publication Date


Document Type



How to explain color? Is it a property of things in the world, or is it produced through processes of visual perception? This has been a central question for philosophers of color. Some lean toward the explanation of physicists who are able to measure color through the frequencies of electromagnetic energy that colored objects reflect, and chemists who attribute color to the microphysical properties of things. Others, however, argue that it is produced through physiological processes, since our perception of it is dependent upon photoreceptors on our retinas, and on processing of this information by our brains. This process of interpretation of visual stimuli factors in contextual information like the play of light and shade and the distance of the object from the viewer, but it also is shaped by language and the color categories we have in our repertoire. Philosopher of color, Mazviita Chirimuuta, argues for a new approach- what is called a “relationist” understanding, that sees color as neither one thing nor the other, but as something that is produced through an interaction between physical properties of things and our processes of perception and interpretation. My project examines and analyzes particular paintings to illustrate Chirimuuta’s arguments about the nature of color and our perception of it. I argue in support of her approach, using the analysis of paintings to demonstrate the limitations of conventional understandings of color. I will draw attention to aspects of those approaches that Chirimuuta strongly objects to, and to show what her perspective can reveal to us about what color is.



Download Full Text (936 KB)

What is Color?: Mazviita Chirimuuta on Color Relationism Seen Through Paintings