Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Art and Science of Perception: Color me deficient

I have always enjoyed music and the visual arts but at times have felt excluded from these worlds.

First there was the music teacher who told me that should mime the words when singing in the school concert because "You're tone deaf." Some years later I found out that I am "color blind," more technically, "color deficient." That explains a lot about my art education.

You see this rectangle on the left? It looks green to me, a dark green, but green nonetheless. Of course, it is not green, it is gray (or grey). I know this because it is an RGB color, specifically equal parts of Red, Green, and Blue. The way that computers handle colors has been a revelation to me. I used to think other people were arbitrary when they talked about colors like violet or peach. Now I know there is a recipe for every color.

Computers also enables me to work on web pages and other computer graphics without creating a garish mess. For example, when I am building a web site I usually start with a template that someone else has designed. If I make any design changes I make sure, by checking with people who have normal color perception, that the thing still looks okay. Then I use the RGB coding to keep on track.

When my daughter first heard that I was color blind she was fascinated and kept asking me what things looked like. Well, I didn't have any good answers. But now, thanks to pages like this one, I can give her some idea. In fact, if you Google "what color blind people see" you will find some fascinating sites. There is even one that shows you what your web site will look like to people with different types of color blindness. You can also do some basic tests of your color perceptions.

I think my form of color deficiency is a red/green deficiency classified as Deuteranomalia. However, I have not yet met, or read about, anyone who shares my perception that this grey is green.