Organizing Color
Toward a Chromatics of the Social
Timon Beyes




Color as Organizational Force

FIGURE 1. Alighiero Boetti, Ordine e Disordine (Order and disorder), 1973. Ricamo su tessuto, 100 elementi, cm 17.5 × 17.5 cad. Photo: Mimmo Capone. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

On September 9, 1919, the first German Color Day (1. Deutscher Farbentag) took place in Stuttgart. It was part of the convention of the Deutscher Werkbund, the first after the outbreak of the First World War forced an early ending of the last meeting in 1914. The Farbentag’s two main speakers were the chemist and Nobel Prize winner Wilhelm Ostwald and Adolf Hölzel, an influential painter of nonrepresentational works and teacher at Stuttgart’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts. The Werkbund, founded in 1907, brought together artists, architects, designers, and social reformers with entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Somewhat similar to the British Arts and Crafts movement yet more strongly connected to business and trade, the Werkbund sought to improve the German economy’s prospects through means of art, aesthetics, and design.

Ostwald, who had already arranged an opulent color-show of industrial paints and dyes at the Werkbund convention in Cologne in 1914, was considered to be the Werkbund’s expert on “organization and color research” (Organisation und Farbkunde).1 Ostwald, an outspoken socialist (of a recently acquired nationalist bent), fervent believer in technology, and advocate of Ordnungswissenschaft (the science of order), studied both the ordering of colors into reliable and replicable schemata and the ordering of the social through forms and processes of organization. He believed “that the age of individualism” would “give way to the age of organization.”2 As he claimed in 1915, “it is the understanding and utilization of the concept of organization upon which this new great age of our cultural development is based.”3 After prewar attempts at improving “the organization of the world” (the title of a lecture he gave in 1910) by means of the medium of a “world auxiliary language,” through the medium of money in the shape of a “world currency,” and by way of the medium of printed paper in the form of a “world format”—all of which assumed European colonial and imperial superiority—Ostwald turned to the elemental medium of color. The messy and ubiquitous realm of artificially produced hues and their manifold shades, tints, and tones would be a prime mover to effectuate the age and the society of organization.

Yet to fully live up to its potential of organizing life, color was itself in need of ordering. Notoriously unruly and on the move, it had to be classified, systematized, and standardized and thus made routinely administrable. And this was the rub. In the case of color, the science and practice of Ordnungswissenschaft had found a prime aesthetic force of ordering, of shaping collective sense experience. At the same time, color presented itself as notoriously unreliable matter, as “something winged that flits from one form to the next” as the young Walter Benjamin enigmatically noted in Berlin around the same time that Ostwald embarked on his quest to clip its wings.4 More than just producing a differently ordered and standardized color chart, Ostwald spent the last two decades of his life developing a new and, he claimed, properly scientific color theory.5 With the aim of finally and comprehensively ordering the world of color, he established a systematic approach to organizing color based on (tonal) value that would, he hoped, enable the reliable reproduction of a standardized and measurable range of colors, beneficial for mass production and mass media just as much as for aesthetic education and the design of habitats and environments, beneficial for even the practice of art itself.

What better organizational context than the Werkbund and its alliance of artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and social reformers to develop a strict classification of colors and once and for all solve the vexed problems of color systematicity and terminology? In his speech at the Farbentag, Ostwald extolled the assumptions, applicability, and virtues of his color theory. Yet the talk did not go down well with most artists and art historians in the audience, a feeling perhaps exacerbated by the experience of the recent war and its destructive forces enabled by an organizational complex of industry, technology, and science. In what would retrospectively be called the beginning of a “bitter debate,”6 in his follow-up speech, the painter and educator Hölzel was pushed (perhaps against his will) into the role of antagonist. Harking back to the premises of Goethe’s foundational Theory of Colours, Hölzel emphasized how the movements and relativity of color’s simultaneous contrasts interfere with and scramble the cleanliness of color ordering and its calculated harmonies, leading to deviations from assumed laws of color stability.7 In the dynamic world of color, qualities like artistic sensibility and imagination could neither be fully captured nor modeled through a scientific standardization of hues, tints, tones, and shades. In short, “art and science could never be equal partners in the study of colour.”8 In the ensuing discussion, Ostwald was admonished for trying to box artistic practice into a scientific ordering regime. The chemist’s colors would lack soul, and having to work with paintboxes made up of calculated color harmonies—like a “barrack yard drill”—would be a crime to the young.9 Or as Johannes Itten, a pupil of Hölzel who would be one of the first teachers appointed to the newly established Bauhaus art school in Weimar in 1919, put it elsewhere, teaching color composition would need to “free the study of colour effects of associations of form.”10

Ostwald and Hölzel shared a basic premise, however: Color is a primary aesthetic and social force of utmost importance in its capacity (what color can do) and in its agency (what color does). The difference was how to understand and work with such capacity and agency. Schematically put, and oversimplifying a more complex entanglement of science, art, and industry, color understood as technology of social organization, mapped out and boxed in through standardized grids, charts, and manuals, clashed with an emphasis of color’s relativity, processualism, and shiftiness, even its magic. In one corner, then, there was a scientific quest for making color manageable, reliable, exchangeable. In the other corner, there was an artistic or poetic Goethean belief in the instability of color, its unmanageability, fused with a worry about the impoverishment of sense experience provoked by attempts at ordering and stilling it.

With Itten, Ostwald, architect Walter Gropius, and the painters Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, among others, the tension between a color science dedicated to rational order and a color expressionism presumed to be beyond or before form and in perpetual motion would come to shape the early years of the Bauhaus. Itten, embodying what has been called the Bauhaus’s early Romantic or Expressionist phase, soon left, apparently because his Expressionism and mysticism came to clash with a turn toward a Constructivist phase marked by a shift toward fusing art and technology, much in the spirit of Ostwald, who also came to teach at the Bauhaus. Paul Klee scoffed that “here we are neither a paint industry nor a chemical dye-house.”11 Chromatics, understood as the study of perception and the practice of painting attuned to the protean and unruly force of color, stayed on at the Bauhaus, too, “where tensions between objective principles and subjective experiences, natural laws and arbitrary conventions, were worked over, if not resolved.”12

How to administer and control the wonders of artificial hues that swept Western countries after the rise of the chemical industries? The little introductory scene of Stuttgart’s Farbentag presents color as elemental medium of the social. Oscillating between order and disorder, color promises to become an organizational force of standardization, commercialization, and education. Yet it seems to retain a recalcitrant ephemerality, slipperiness, and volatility. The scene thus foregrounds a contested and perhaps uneasy relation between color and social organization.

Historically, the Farbentag was just one event in the wide and sometimes fierce debates about the promise of controlling color that raged in the Western world in early twentieth century. These arguments have a deep prehistory. Starting in antiquity, there has been a polemic between the clarity and strength of line and form (invoking reason and representation) and the messiness, unreliability, and offensiveness of color (and connotations such as emotion, conceit, and poison). In the mid-sixteenth century, at the height of the Renaissance, it famously took on the form of the artistic and conceptual struggle between Florentine disegno and Venetian colore, pitting a mimetic, narrative, and representational mode of pictorialism against an “insurrection of color.”13 Beyond a merely artistic quibble, what was (and kept returning to be) at stake was to purify and still color’s fleetingness and manifoldness by way of the lines and contours of disegno—where color is secondary and gains its function, necessity, and duration through form—and the campaign for its liberation as primary aesthetic force.14

Yet in early twentieth century, the ubiquitous presence and availability of ready-made hues and the glow of luminous urban environments turned the control of color into a concern for the ordering of society. With regard to the US context, historian of science Michael Rossi has spoken of a “republic of color” (a notion already affirmatively employed by Goethe at the beginning of the nineteenth century), denoting “an ideological, administrative, and political apparatus for ensuring that all those who could experience color would do so with the moral and aesthetic cohesion required of a rapidly expanding and self-consciously modernizing American nation.”15 On the other side of the Atlantic, the public figure of Ostwald, simultaneously organization man and color man, thus embodied the quest for negotiating and shaping color as paradigmatic aesthetic medium of modernity.

Remarkably, then, these debates almost invariably ran into questions and concerns of social organization. In Rossi’s words, the medium of color “expresses itself through techniques and technologies which themselves shape human societies.”16 And color experience, generically understood as the “color sense”—the capacity to feel and understand hues, tints, tones, and shades—was and is organized by these techniques and technologies: the chromatic infrastructures, apparatuses, and material practices of organized life.17 In terms both aesthetic and organizational, color intervenes in and alters the “sensible fabric of experience” and the everyday “distribution of the sensible,” its “material conditions,” “modes of perception,” and “regimes of emotion” that shape how human bodies perceive, feel, think, and communicate.18 Color shapes what can be felt and known, desired and expressed. It reveals and conceals, seduces and unsettles, dominates and fades, is affirmative and subversive, gives itself to and escapes representational strategies. Color standardizes, stigmatizes, and scandalizes. In a world saturated with ever more luminous and variegated shine and twinkle, color is a primary organizational force.

Echoing Bruce Smith’s reflections on the historical phenomenology of green, why turn color into the object (if “object” it is) of an inquiry into the organized and disorganized world, “when there are so many more compelling objects of study in view,” proper organizational concerns perhaps, “like . . . political revolutions . . . , the consolidation of capitalism, the institutionalization of science, the expansion of empire, the reification of ‘race’ as a way of classifying people, shifts in the ways sexuality was aligned with gender?”19 In short, because all these concerns are in some way affected by color as organizational force. Beyond the usual and compelling reasons that have propelled chromatic thought—that color helps explore the limits of language and thought, that color’s “unthinkable scandal” poses perennial ontological, epistemological, and methodological problems of locating where it is and what it means to perceive it, that the history of art is shaped by the quest for and bitter debates about color—there is an equally compelling if perhaps more prosaic argument to be made, and it is one of social organization.20 Color is actually at work in political revolutions, in the consolidation and expansion of capitalism, in the institutionalization of science, in the workings of colonial empires, in all sorts of ways of classifying people, bodies, and habits. It is an organizational force that helps shape all these developments by providing a primary, elemental matter for calibrating and reconstituting how the world is perceived, felt, and lived.21 As such, it was at the heart of industrial modernity and of the forms and processes of organization it engendered, just as it shapes contemporary digital or postdigital societies. For instance, the rise of commodity capitalism was predicated on the artificial production and standardization of color, on what business historians have called “the color revolution.” As Michael Taussig has written, color is “the commodity’s commodity”: a commodity and industry in its own right, yet one that provides goods with an aesthetic and profitable surplus value.22

What this calls for is a chromatics of the social: to re-situate color, locate it firmly in the social, historical, political, economic, and material contexts of the organized world, and trace what it does or can do. Color becomes a question of social organization in a double sense: as erstwhile technology of order and as disorderly, uncontrollable aesthetic substance (if “substance” it is). Seen with Benjamin’s distinction of Medium and Apparatur, color has long been part and parcel of and refracted through apparatuses of production, management, automatization, and control; yet all of this seems to be predicated on “something winged”: on color’s instability, fleetingness, and evanescence as medium of experience.23 Axiomatically put: Color affects social organization, and social organization affects color. In more processual terms, color organizes, and color is organized. Color organizes the social by way of its capacity to mediate, shape, and alter what is given to sense perception, how bodies sense, feel, and think. Yet color is itself a matter of organization, becomes social technology and “color management.” How to come to terms with color as force of organization is the question that propelled the writing of this text and that the following chapters seek to respond to. Through interrelated color scenes, this book presents an investigation of color as elemental medium of the social.

To relate color to organization and organizing, to indeed posit a relation of interdependence between the two fields, requires a little unpacking. Borrowing Reinhold Martin’s reflections on architecture, technological media, and what he has called “the organizational complex,” one can tentatively approach color and organization “as partial and uneven functions of one another.”24 While organization is of course not just an offshoot of unleashing color unto the world, color affects organization and is affected by organization. As organizational force and medium of transformation, color provokes, conditions, disrupts, and alters how organization takes place and unfolds.

The emphasis on color’s relational and transformative mediality situates this endeavor in a tradition of thought and experiment—a (counter-)history of chromatics for which Goethe’s Theory of Colours is regarded as foundational text—dedicated to chromatic effects, to what color does rather than what color is. In this sense, this book offers interrogations of the fundamentally social efficacy of color as force of ordering and disordering. This includes the disordering of ways of knowing, or the very “divisions of mind and body, self and world that underwrite the entwined histories of capitalism and colonialism.”25 Adopting a sensibility and vocabulary of organization and organizing in order to investigate and discuss color’s capacities and relevance implies refraining from the perennially contested color-scientific quest to locate and define what color is, for instance, physically, chemically, neuroscientifically, or philosophically. However, such debates influence understandings and enactments of what color can(not) do, as embodied by Ostwald’s quest to fuse color science and social organization and as demonstrated by the very material and political consequences of color science for modulating and administrating the color sense.26

Color science in this sense is a symptom of color as medium of ordering and disordering. As Benjamin’s notion of medium suggests and as John Durham Peters has recently developed in more detail, media can be understood as the habitats and materials through which we act and are. They are not mere means of communication but its condition of possibility. They cannot be equated with, yet are refracted and ordered by technological media (Benjamin’s apparatus). They are “vessels and environments, containers of possibility that anchor our existence and make what we are doing possible.” As “civilizational ordering devices,” they need to be apprehended in their capacities to organize life. Color is an elemental medium in Peters’s sense (like air, earth and water), a taken-for-granted milieu and background of organized life that “fills and forms the world,” relating and engendering subjects and objects, enabling sensation, perception, and exchange.27

In filling and forming the world, color flits from one form to the next, as Benjamin had it, marked by instability and fleetingness and thus varying degrees of uncontrollability. This amounts to a “dialectics of control and randomness,” to use Sean Cubitt’s term, if dialectics is not understood as a tidy operation of mopping up contradictions but as a continuous interplay of forces.28 This is precisely why color is endlessly “capable of effecting events and transformations,” as Natasha Eaton has written.29 Such is its elemental, organizational force. Embracing what color does implies an attunement to what is fleeting, moving, alive—and thus endlessly ordered. And while there are a number of remarkable studies that trace the vagrant histories and unstable presences of specific colors such as red, white, black, blue, yellow, and green,30 writing a chromatics of the social that is attuned to (dis)organization implies a focus on color in general. Hues, after all, are but one of the dimensions of color, themselves endlessly organized into tableaus and charts. Yet color’s medial capacity to effect events and transformations is also predicated on intensity and saturation, on color’s relationality, variability, and its sheer associationism. Different colors are then to be understood as “nuances” or “degrees” of color that cannot be subsumed under an ontological claim of what color (in general) is or how it works but that participate in its play of differentiation and stabilization, of disordering and ordering.31

How does the quest for colors establish organizational practices and forms? How does color become and is employed as a tool or technology of organizing? And how does color intervene in and change organized life? Adopting a sensibility and vocabulary of color’s mediality in order to investigate social organization implies that color is not merely a secondary symptom of primary organizational structures or forms. It directly provokes, intervenes in, and conditions processes of organizing. Such thinking of organization in processual terms implies recognizing “a more general force which includes us in its perpetual movement between order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty.” Attempts at organizing are bound up in, depend on, and can effect disorganization.32 The study of organization is here framed as an interest in the happening and interplay of social ordering and disordering, perhaps a more general Ordnungswissenschaft in Ostwald’s sense. This comparably loose notion of organization is echoed in older anthropological and culture-theoretical notions of social organization, and it has more recently been updated in a turn toward process theories of organizing.33 Bruno Latour, for instance, has advocated the deployment of adverbial forms in order to understand organization as a “mode of existence.”34 Thinking organizationally refrains from presupposing the existence of formal organizations (bureaucracies, parties, corporations, etc.) as static and object-like containers into which colors are placed, while acknowledging that—and tracing how—color can become a technology of organizing within the organizational scripts of formal organizations. Thinking organizationally therefore becomes a preposition that propels one to follow and trace processes of organizing.35 Latour suggests attending to the circulation of multiple “scripts” of organizing, understood as performative narratives that engage actors and in whose scripting actors participate. Replacing the language of scripts and narratives with an aesthetic and medial vocabulary of forces, affects, and atmospheres, color in this book is recognized and apprehended as a primary aesthetic power of organizing.

Studying color in terms of organizing and organizing in terms of color therefore encounters color in social ordering and control and in the ways it escapes these processes, in the aesthetic distribution and redistribution of what can be sensed and how (thus organizing the human sensorium), in the dressage, discrimination, and liberation of human bodies, in commodity capitalism, in the affective glue of political hues, and in the lure of countless digital colors. All of this is predicated on color as medium through which ordering and disordering take place and thus on its processual force: its permanent and endless capacity for chromatic differentiation.36 Color is flitting between managerial technology and “unmanageable thing.” To paraphrase Nicholas Gaskill, an attunement to color requires a mind for processes of organizing.37

The notion of chromatics denotes a field of inquiry into how color behaves in everyday settings. Goethe’s influential Theory of Colours (first published in 1810 in German, first English translation published in 1840) heralded a turn away from inscribing the study of color into the science of optics, away from modeling the objective properties of light and the orderly ways in which colors physically harmonize, mix, or clash.38 In tune with the etymological roots of chromatics, denoting phenomena that are caused by color and relate to color sensations, the study of chromatics began foregrounding human perception and the responsiveness and irritability of human bodies affected by color.39 This entailed, in Jonathan Crary’s account of the nineteenth-century recalibration of vision, a groundbreaking move away from the camera obscura model of human perception and its assumed separation of observer and observed. It helped usher in a host of “techniques of the observer” invested in the empirical study of vision and “the irritability of the eye” and the development of new techniques of disciplinary control and regulation (or surveillance and punishment) precisely because human sense perception became unmoored from assumptions of comparably stable modes of cognition and “the more inflexible representational system of the camera obscura.”40 To think chromatically therefore calls for a focus on the modulation and administration of perception through color and how this is organized.

Emphasizing how color behaves, acts, and is acted upon organizationally, a chromatics of the social seeks to pull this conceptual and empirical imaginary into the study of the social. In assuming that color is an elemental medium, this endeavor is thus part of a more general reconsideration of the aesthetic in contemporary cultural, medial, and social thought on aesthetic or emotional capitalism. Here, the aesthetic is not conceived as a property of objects or experiencing subjects but as force that underpins and transforms social and socio-technical relations, returning the “fate of the human senses” into “a political question of utmost urgency.”41 Yet a chromatics of the social foregrounds the manifold and mundane processes and struggles through which color acts upon organized life and is itself organized. A larger argument implicitly runs through the following pages, and it is this: For aesthetic forces to impress themselves on social practices, they need to be understood as organizational, as provoking and inflecting processes of organizing, and as invariably part of organizational apparatuses of power and control. Loosely related to what I would call a media theory of organization, this echoes John Durham Peters’s and Reinhold Martin’s points alluded to above: to trace how media become operational, they need to be thought of in organizational terms and as part of organizational constellations.42

In terms of social and organizational theory, the focus on color’s agency and relationality chimes well with the recent interest in the material, affective, mediated, and infrastructural constitution of organized life. Yet there is precious little on color in aesthetic approaches, embodied and affective approaches, neo-material approaches, spatial and atmospheric approaches, or even in visual approaches to organizational and social theory.43 Perhaps this book can help redress the somewhat color-blind or perhaps chromophobic constitution of socio-organizational thought, to refer to the artist and writer David Batchelor’s provocative, sweeping diagnosis of Western cultural and scholarly spheres’ long-standing fear, loathing, and degradation of color.44

However, a chromatics of the social can draw inspiration and courage from a broader renaissance of chromatic investigations, from a rekindled interest in color’s effects and affects across different fields of inquiry. Color (as ever) trespasses the epistemological and methodological boundaries between cultural and social theories. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a long-established engagement with color’s behavior in art theory and cultural history, also reflecting that color’s constitutive ambiguity—as force of ordering and disordering—has been explored most attentively on the terrain of visual art, film, photography, and literature (as the following scenes show).45 Yet beyond these strongholds of chromatic thought and to refer only to the main interlocutors of the present study, color has more recently surfaced as a major issue in anthropology, media theory, business and economic history, architectural theory, postcolonial studies, semiotics, film studies, affect theory, literary studies, cultural studies, and the history of science.46 To varying degrees, these and related writings touch upon color as organizational force and are thus woven into the following scenes.47 There is perhaps a return of chromatics as an interdisciplinary or a-disciplinary field of inquiry—epistemologically and methodologically diverse in being open to and problematizing what color does, a republic in color theory in Goethe’s sense—to which a chromatics of how the social is organized belongs.

The following chapters are structured into color scenes. As starting points for each investigation (akin to Ostwald’s Farbentag at the beginning of this chapter), the scenes present singular occurrences, set in different times and places. They offer particular snapshots of doing and thinking color organizationally, of how the relational medium of color affects the ordering and disordering of the social. Yet these scenes, like color, do not stay in place. In following motifs and concerns to different sites and ventures, the chapters operate transversally across historical time or heterochronically in conjoining different temporalities. Color’s universality (as organizational force) takes place in and cuts across, or rather flits between, particular sites and settings. “Writing color” therefore takes on a discontinuous, montage-like style that seeks to follow and reenact color’s shifty and inconclusive trajectories.

This is then not a cultural, social, or media history of color, of its aesthetic qualities, technological affordances, or cultural deployments, but a more sociologically minded scenography of color: the scenes open up to specific concerns and ways of thinking the relation of color and the social, framed by a vocabulary of organization and organizing. Around each scene, then, a network of perceptions, concepts, and connections on “organizing color” is woven. As images of thought, the scenes thus also allow weaving the conceptual apparatus of thinking color as organizational force and medium of transformation into each chapter, yet with different emphases and implications.48

The choice of scenes in itself is far from given or self-evident. After all, the ubiquity of the knot of color and social organization and the utterly prosaic character of color’s capacity to organize and be organized offer countless stories to begin with. No doubt the selection (of scenes and theories) reflects—and limits the endeavor to—this author’s own disciplinary, geographical, and linguistic situatedness in a Western, continental European, German-speaking context, in a research landscape dominated by Anglo-American writings, and in a style of thinking and writing that owes as much to a German history of Kulturwissenschaften as it is shaped by writing for English-language publication channels. To echo a sentiment offered by Sean Cubitt in his genealogy of visual technologies, The Practice of Light, the scenes and their arguments are orchestrated by perceptions and sensations of “consideration, wonder, and hope.” I consider them to offer situated investigations of specifically relevant and partially overlapping themes of color as force of organizing the social; to distill and convey a sense of wonder about what color does and what is done to it; and to insist, in different degrees, on color’s recalcitrance, its uncanny capacity to evade the efforts to be systematically captured and coded.49


1. Pohlmann, Von der Kunst zur Wissenschaft und zurück, 129.

2. Gage, Colour and Culture, 247.

3. Ostwald quoted in Krajewski, World Projects, 55. Ostwald’s work would later resurface in debates about complexity and self-organization (and he had the reputation of being a canny organizer, too). In Markus Krajewski’s compelling media history of world projects around 1900, the chemist-turned-organizer figures as a paradigmatic “project designer” who obsessively and quixotically pursued projects of reorganizing and standardizing interaction on a global scale. See Krajewski, World Projects, 33–92.

4. Benjamin, “A Child’s View of Colour,” 211.

5. Ostwald’s color system was determined more by aesthetic criteria of symmetry and simple relations than scientific exactitude, as skeptical physicists noted: his was a color theory shaped by an artistic sensibility more than a scientific one but constituting an amalgamation of both. See Pohlmann, Von der Kunst zur Wissenschaft und zurück, 194.

6. Gage, “Colour at the Bauhaus,” 50.

7. For Hölzel’s color theory, see Biema, Farben und Formen als lebendige Kräfte, 129–211.

8. Gage, Colour and Culture, 259.

9. Pohlmann, Von der Kunst zur Wissenschaft und zurück, 270; my translation.

10. Itten quoted in Gage, “Colour at the Bauhaus,” 53.

11. See Gage, “Colour at the Bauhaus,” 50; Klee quoted in Gage, “Colour at the Bauhaus,” 52. Itten’s influential Vorkurs (preliminary course) at the Bauhaus was taken over by the artists and teachers László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Albers. After emigrating to the US, Moholy-Nagy became director of Chicago’s Institute of Design (see chapter 5). Under Nazi pressure, too, Albers also emigrated to the US and became an influential teacher at Black Mountain College and Yale. His Interaction of Color is widely considered a seminal book on understanding and teaching color’s movement, situatedness, and relativity, alongside Itten, The Art of Color.

12. Foster, “Exercises for Color Theory Courses,” 268.

13. See Gage, Colour and Culture, 117–138; the term “insurrection of color” is from Lichtenstein, The Eloquence of Color, 5. Disegno remained the dominant paradigm of painting until well into the nineteenth century. Indeed, it still seems very much alive, in different forms, such as the practices and reflections of Constructivism and Conceptual art, mistrustful of color’s power to deceive.

14. See Vogl, “Goethes Farben,” 122.

15. Rossi, The Republic of Color, 3; for Goethe’s color republic, see Jackson, “A Spectrum of Belief.”

16. Rossi, The Republic of Color, 4.

17. For a discussion of understanding, training, and discriminating the color sense in the North American context, see Gaskill, Chromographia, 21–30.

18. The notion of the distribution of the sensible, and its conditions, modes and regimes, is from Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis, ix–x.

19. Smith, The Key of Green, 22.

20. For color’s “unthinkable scandal,” see Melville, “Colour Has Not Yet Been Named,” 141.

21. This is paraphrasing Gaskill, Chromographia, 41, for whom color “provides a resource for reconstituting how the world is felt.”

22. See Blaszczyk, The Color Revolution; Taussig, What Color Is the Sacred?, 234.

23. See, e.g., Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” 104; see also Hansen, Cinema and Experience, 108; Somaini, “Walter Benjamin’s Media Theory.”

24. Martin, The Organizational Complex, 8.

25. Gaskill, Chromographia, 41.

26. See Rossi, The Republic of Color. See also chapter 5.

27. Peters, The Marvelous Clouds, (“vessels and environments”) 2, (“civilizational ordering devices”) 5. The phrase “fills and forms the world” is from Cubitt, The Practice of Light, 2. This expanded notion of medium and mediality “dissolves boundaries between nature and culture, technology and environment,” Liam Young has written with regard to the elemental medium of salt. Young, “Salt,” 152. As Miriam Hansen has argued with regard to Benjamin, such medial thought “proceeds from an older philosophical usage (at the latest since Hegel and Herder) referring to an in-between substance or agency—such as language, writing, thinking, memory—that mediates and constitutes meaning.” Hansen, Cinema and Experience, 108.

28. Cubitt, The Practice of Light, 111.

29. Eaton, Colour, Art and Empire, 13.

30. See, for instance, Michel Pastoureau’s histories of white, yellow, blue, black, green, and red, published in English translation in the past twenty years with Princeton University Press. “Blue” will resurface in chapter 4, Pastoureau, Blue; and “red” in chapter 7, Pastoureau, Red. See also Bruce Smith’s The Key of Green; Sabine Doran’s The Culture of Yellow; or the more poetic Blue Mythologies by Carol Mavor; and Maggie Nelson’s wonderful Bluets.

31. The point about participation in nuances or degrees of difference rather than subsumption under an abstract regime of color (so that colors would merely be differences of degree) is taken from Gilles Deleuze, “Bergson’s Concept of Difference,” 43. Deleuze would perform this kind of chromatic sensibility in his writings on color as affect and haptic space with regard to film and painting. See chapters 2 and 7.

32. Chia and Kallinikos, “Interview with Robert Cooper,” 154. For the “illusory edifice” of concepts of structure and organization, see Cooper, “Organization/Disorganization,” 317; see also Hassard, Kelemen, and Cox, Disorganization Theory; Parker, “Weeds.”

33. In their introduction to the Oxford Handbook of Process Philosophy and Organization Studies, the editors signal that color could be at the very heart of such process thought. For they begin their reflections on process and organization with color, as encountered in a Cezanne painting, Montagne Sainte-Victoire, experienced as a performance of process: “Apparently fixed, isolated objects begin to burst through their edges, colours flow within one another, as greens are pulled into more distant purples and pinks, which themselves are pulled back into occasional foreground details, hesitant to comply with the form-giving order to recede.” This way, the image “upsets entirely the conceits of any neat organization of the world by allowing movement and insubstantiality equal voice amid a democracy of presence.” Helin et al., “Process Is How Process Does,” 1–2.

34. See Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, 381–411.

35. “To organize is to pick up, along the way and on the fly, scripts with staggered outcomes that are going to disorganize others.” Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, 393.

36. Force is here understood aesthetically as an ongoing “play of expression and concealment,” “an endless generation and dissolution of expressions, an endless transformation of one expression into something different.” It designates “pure” relation, since it exists in the relation, in connecting, and is expressed through the succession of “connectings” (exceeding any particular expression or form). Menke, Force, 44.

37. The qualification of color as “unmanageable thing” is from Taussig, What Color Is the Sacred?, 17. Gaskill’s formulation is “An eye for color requires a mind for process.” Gaskill, Chromographia, 246.

38. See Goethe, Theory of Colours. See also chapter 2.

39. The Greek word chroma means not only “color” but also “skin color, complexion, and make-up.” It is related to chros, which denotes “skin, felt body, skin color, and closeness.” Both are based on the verb chrozein, “to touch, to dye or color, to brush.”

40. Crary, Techniques of the Observer, (“irritability”) 103–104, (“camera obscura”) 113.

41. Hansen, Cinema and Experience, 162. For recent sociologies of aesthetic and emotional capitalism, harking back to the work of Simmel and Benjamin, see Reckwitz, The Invention of Creativity, and Illouz, Emotions as Commodities.

42. The contours of a media theory of organization are developed in Beyes, Conrad, and Martin, Organize; Beyes, Holt, and Pias, The Oxford Handbook of Media, Technology, and Organization Studies; and Beyes et al., “Ten Theses on Technology and Organization.”

43. It is quite astonishing that in theories of the social and social organization, color’s appearances are few and far between. In German, Hans Peter Thurn has emphasized the need for and outlined first attempts at tracing how society is shaped by an interplay of colors. See Thurn, Farbwirkungen; and Thurn, “Soziale Welt in Farben.” There is also some acknowledgment of color’s symbolical and resonating power to shape collective meaning and representation. See Fine et al., “Social Order through a Prism”; Chesters and Welsh, “Rebel Colours.”

In terms of thinking organization visually (and instrumentally), color is referred to as a “latent dimension of visual artifacts,” helpful to “form a stable environment” for the transmission of information. See Meyer et al., “The Visual Dimension in Organizing, Organization, and Organization Research,” 494. Recently and insightfully, the color black has been investigated as a dynamic positioning device in relation to both social stigma and market behavior. See Sgourev, Aadland, and Formilan, “Relations in Aesthetic Space.” See also Beyes, “Colour and Organization Studies.”

44. See Batchelor, Chromophobia.

45. For cultural and art histories attuned to color’s ambiguity, see, e.g., Brusatin, A History of Colors; Gage, Colour and Culture; Lichtenstein, The Eloquence of Color; Riley, Color Codes. With regard to painting as cultural technique of operating and thinking in color, this study is particularly indebted to Ludger Schwarte’s Denken in Farbe; to Éric Alliez’s Goethean investigation of painting The Brain-Eye; and to Darby English’s reflections on modernist art, skin color, and racism in 1971: A Year in the Life of Color.

46. Main references include, among others, the anthropologist Michael Taussig’s What Color Is the Sacred?; in cultural theory, Esther Leslie’s Hollywood Flatlands and Synthetic Worlds; in media theory, Carolyn Kane’s Chromatic Algorithms; and Sean Cubitt’s The Practice of Light; in business and economic history, Regina Blaszczyk’s The Color Revolution; and Alexander Engel’s Farben der Globalisierung; in architectural theory, Mark Wigley’s White Walls, Designer Dresses; Deborah Barnstone’s The Color of Modernism; and Gareth Doherty’s Paradoxes of Green; in postcolonial theory, Natasha Eaton’s Colour, Art and Empire; in ecological theory, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s edited collection Prismatic Ecology; in social semiotics, Theo Van Leeuwen’s The Language of Colour; in film studies, Richard Dyer’s White: Essays on Race and Culture; Paul Coates’s Cinema and Colour; and Richard Misek’s Chromatic Cinema; in affect theory, the chromatic work of Erin Manning (e.g., Manning, “Coloring the Virtual”); and Brian Massumi (e.g., Massumi, “Too-Blue”); in literary studies, Nicholas Gaskill’s Chromographia; in cultural studies, Jennifer Slack and Stefka Hristova’s “Culture In-colour”; in the history of knowledge, Michael Rossi’s The Republic of Color.

47. Of course, a host of engagements with colors in popular texts on color techniques or color meanings have been developed into manuals for artists, designers, and marketers. Color here is mainly conceived of as a communication tool for complex information by invoking emotional responses. In the following chapters, this kind of work is selectively drawn upon in terms of its symptomatic claims of what color does or can do.

48. For this notion and practice of scene, see Rancière, Aisthesis, xi.

49. Cubitt, The Practice of Light, 16.