TypeContrastResulting Attributes
Hue (Color)
PrimaryMaximumEmotionally Active
Aesthetically Dynamic
Spatially In Depth
SecondaryMinimumEmotionally Passive
Aesthetically Decorative
Spatially Static
Chroma (Intensity)
StrongMaximumEmotionally Active
Aesthetically Dynamic
Spatially In Depth
WeakMinimumEmotionally Passive
Aesthetically Decorative
Spatially Static
Light, Dark, BrightMaximumEmotionally Active
Aesthetically Dynamic
Spatially In Depth
Gray or DullMinimumEmotionally Passive
Aesthetically Decorative
Spatially Static

As you can see from the table the Color element is mult-faceted in terms of the Alphabet.

This analysis is based on the work of Albert H. Munsell, who in 1905 delineated these three components of color so that it could be treated in a scientific manner.

  • Hue is the name of the color: red, blue, etc.
  • Chroma is the amount of intensity in a color, whether it is intensely strong, intensely weak, or somewhere in between.
  • Value is the brightness or dullness of a color, the amount of light in the color.

Munsell’s analysis of the components of color made it possible to produce colors of the same value and intensity. He developed charts and graphs which were scientific and permitted color to be reproduced exactly the same anywhere. For instance, painters who wanted a decorative sign could paint all of the colors at the same value or intensity by using a scientific formula.

This wheel shows the principal hues of Munsell Hue. Inside the wheel, the notation for Munsell Hue can also be seen.



Temperature can also be considered an aspect of color. There are warm colors: reds, oranges, yellows, and cool colors such as blues and greens.

There has also been some study of the way color affects how people feel and how the retina of the eye reacts to color. An application of this is the fact that doctors wear green in the operating room to rest their eyes from red. This has to do with the way the retina reacts to those two colors. Hospitals sometimes put depressed people in warm-colored rooms to make them feel less depressed, and overstimulated people in cool-colored rooms to aid in quieting them down.


Not many artists have mastered the science of color. An exception, remarkable because it was the use of color on a three-dimensional object, was the Egyptian artists who sculpted the Head of Nefertiti.

Another sculptor who seemed to have mastered color is Marisol Escabar, who had the good fortune to study with the German master of color, Hans Hoffman. A fine example is the piece below, titled Women and Dog.


Try It

Compare the use of color in these two paintings by Paul Cezanne.

In the still life, the colors are muted, with low chroma (intensity) and dull value. This creates a static and restful effect.

In the landscape, while the colors are still mostly secondary (minimum contrast) the chroma is stronger and the there is more contrast in the value (dark/bright). This results in a more active and dynamic pictorial effect.

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