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Theory of Colours (Dover Fine Art, History of Art) Paperback – 27 Oct 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications Inc. (27 Oct 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486448053
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486448053
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.6 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 243,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"Can you lend me The Theory of Colours for a few weeks? It is an important work. His latest things are insipid." Ludwig van Beethoven , Conversation-book, 1820 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), a towering figure in German literature, was the author of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Faust, Italian Journey, The Theory of Colours (MIT Press edition, 1970), and many other works. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mr. J. Driver on 26 Feb 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an interesting read as it is a written account of Goethe's observations and experiments. You'll take away more than just information regarding colour theory, but will be left pondering many aspects of the human mind. Whether you agree with his findings or thoughts in part or full, much of what he observed is still relevant.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Taramot on 11 Nov 2012
Format: Paperback
Wonderful book that delves into the relationship between colours, and correlation to sound and shape. This provides a foundation for multimedia experiments that became popular in the late 19th century. These have led to the light shows that have been used in music to enhance the musical experience (60' psychadelia, Jean Michel Jarre and visualisations available in media players). Goethe was truly a visionary and his ideas are still relevant today and are a great starting point for audio-visual experimentation.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
129 of 137 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating introduction to Goethean science 5 Aug 2000
By Frank Bierbrauer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, probably the greatest of Germany's poets, was also an avid amateur scientist and displayed through his careful observations and his keen, what might now be called phenomenological, mind an ability to discern the depth of the phenomenon in question, in this case the origin of colours. In direct contradiction to Newton whose theory of colour formation, based on his earlier prism experiments and their interpretation, was the accepted theory of the time in all scientific circles and laymen alike, with one exception, that of painting and artistic use of colour.
Goethe, being fascinated by the colours generated from the prism conducted his own investigations and found to his great surprise that Newton's theory was, if not incorrect, but rather mechanical in nature and based on an "interpretation" of the phenomenon rather than the truth as it stands. Goethe through his investigations into natural phenomena gave rise to the idea of the archetypal phenomenon or Ur-phenomenon, in this case meaning the movement or active form present in the phenomenon which gives it its character rather than some static image such as a Darwinian ancestor. Goethe noted that it is possible to actually experience the fullness of the phenomenon ie the coming into being of the colours themselves and that the human being can not only theorise in the conventional sense of Kant but can in fact truly know the phenomenon as it is. Contemporary science as it also was then does not acknowledge such a possibility.
The book is basically a written account of experiments done by Goethe on the generation of colour in natural events and his own experiments to bring to the fore the ground of all colour generation. It displays great care in his observations and it gives a wide ranging explanation of colour in the sciences, the arts such as painting and also deals to some degree with the experience of colours in the physiological domain. It is all encompassing in its attempt to understand the colour phenomenon in all of its many incarnations. It is convincing in its comprehension of colours and yet at times leaves one dissatisfied because it lacks mathematical rigour or measurement that is characteristic of science today. This habitual way of thinking present in scientists is rather hard to dislodge even when the mind is open, the main reason for this being the hard edged practicality of such an approach.
I would think that Goethe's book can be looked at as an introduction to his way of doing science and as a first attempt to fathom the real depth of the phenomenon which is inherent in his approach and sorely lacking in "normal" science. Naturally, this does not mean scientists themselves haven't used similar approaches, the names of Faraday and his investigation of electromagnetism and Heisenberg in his description of the limitation induced by the scientific method to the investigation of natural processes, come to mind. It is the cutting down of the original "life" present in their investigations that is lacking today, perhaps a Goethean approach can lead back to the intensification of science that is needed.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
An Existential View of Colour and Sight 20 Jan 2008
By David Hume - Published on
Format: Paperback
Clever, original, speculative.

Ideas like Goethe's are the wellspring of new fashions in thought, whether they are 'right' or not.

Maybe Newton was supported by better evidence in his analysis of light and colour, but Goethe's views are a study in how the inquisitive human mind speculates on fascinating topics and comes up with answers that demand consideration and respect - whether they are 'right' in reality or just useful as ideas in themselves.

This book will provide insights into how we think, not just how we explain phenomenon.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Solid, partial translation 30 Oct 2007
By Matei N. PLESU - Published on
Format: Paperback
Very solid, explicative (often clearer than the original text) translation of the "Didactical Part" of the "Theory of Colours".
Although, the complete "Theory of Colours" also includes a "Historical Part" and a "Polemical Part"...
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating exploration of colors 16 Aug 2010
By Christopher R. Travers - Published on
Format: Paperback
First a note. Goethe's optical theory is well known to be incorrect. Whatever he applies in terms of optical theory, one can disregard.

This book is a fascinating look at the world of colors in which we live with the eye for detail of a scientist and the meditative appreciation of a philosopher. The attention to detail is very good. The experiments are reproducible. It's really nicely done.

The basic theory that Goethe seems to be striving for is a set of patterns which explain our perception of color in the world around us. His theories are thus almost more artistic than scientific. He looks a patterns in color change, including those in optical illusions relating solely to the eye. In these patterns he finds meaning.

I very much enjoyed this book. It helped me step back and enjoy the world a little more.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
First comes Theory 22 Mar 2013
By A. Clyburn - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a great book, and though the format wasn't as I expected at the beginning - the information was priceless. Definitely a plus and a recommended read.
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