Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas


  • The Power of Color in Early and Medieval East Asia
  • Workshop
  • 9/24/2010
  • 09:00-13:30
  • Spooner Hall
  • Host: The Commons
Event Description
The Commons Interdisciplinary Research Initiative in Nature and Culture / This team of scholars from the arts, humanities and sciences will explore the roles that color played in the social and political life, thought, art, and ritual practices of East Asia and will examine the dye plants and mineral pigments that produced the colors. The source material is rich, including dynastic histories, court documents, travelers’ journals, merchant ledgers, literature, tomb paintings, paintings in Buddhist grottoes, paintings on silk or paper, pottery, textiles, and the inherited knowledge of twenty-first century farmers, processers, dyers and painters who work with traditional plant dyes and mineral pigments.

Color was a critical element in ancient and medieval East Asian life and thought. Philosophically, the classical ‘primary’ colors (the so-called ‘correct’ colors) were not associated with a spectrum of light, but were earth-bound, linked to specific plant or mineral substances. Many were also potent medicines or primary ingredients in Daoist elixirs of immortality. The idea that these colors shared the transformative powers associated with the substance they came from, that they possessed a life-force or energy of their own, permeated early religious, political, and social practices, enabling color to function in a variety of significant roles.