The Use of Color in History, Politics, and Art

By , February 12, 2014 11:16 am

Cover_photo01The Use of Color in History, Politics, and Art

Edited by Sungshin Kim



Color and Political Power

Painting on a White Foundation: Color, Countenance, and Performance in the Analects and Han Feizi by Thomas Radice

Color, Adornment, and Social Conflict: Fashioning Cultural Identity in Ancient Greece and Rome by Michael Proulx

Color Symbolism in the Turko-Mongolian World by Timothy May

Lawful Colors and Color of Law in Late Tudor England by Renee Bricker

From Dun to White: Forts, Power, and the Politics of Restoration in the United Arab Emirates by Victoria Hightower

Colors of American Diplomacy by Christopher Jespersen

Color and Representation in Art and Literature

 Metachromatics: The Historical Division Between Color and Line/Form as Analytic by Robert Machado

 Jean-Léon Gérôme and the Color of Flesh by Pamela Jane Sachant

 “Whiteness” and Identity in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Michelle Cliff’s Abeng by April Conley Kilinski

Color in Contemporary Culture  

Pink is the New Green: Raising Little Shoppers from Birth by Amy Hagenrater-Gooding

Understanding Color, Race, and Identity through the (Body) Politics of Barack Obama by Celnisha L. Dangerfield

Aversion to the Color Gray: The Monochromatic Nature of Turkish Domestic and Foreign Policy by Jonathan S. Miner


Color and Political Power

  • Painting on a White Foundation: Color, Countenance, and Performance in the Analects and Han Feizi by Thomas Radice

Abstract: When referring to ritual performances, Confucius emphasizes se ?, a word that can refer to “color,” but can also refer to “beauty,” “sex,” or “countenance.” He insists that a person’s countenance is very important to express the required emotion or sense of reverence for the ritual performed, and many passages (especially from Book 10) that are traditionally ascribed to the behavior of Confucius himself also emphasize facial expressions. However, Confucius also expresses strong reservations about people who appear virtuous, but actually are not–that people are often duped by those who are good performers, but not necessarily “good.” Such a qualification complicates Confucius’s insistence that morality (through the performance of rituals) is important for effective government and social harmony, because people are naturally drawn to virtuous rulers. In addition, the performative component to Confucian morality and politics links it in a fundamental way to the competing political theory of Han Feizi, which stresses not only that public officials need to be good performers, but also that rulers must be able to discern these officials’ true intentions.

Bio: Thomas Radice ( is an associate professor of History at Southern Connecticut State University, specializing in early Chinese intellectual history. He has published articles and book reviews in Asian Philosophy, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, and Sino-Platonic Papers. Currently, he is completing a book manuscript on ritual performance in early Chinese thought.


  • Color, Adornment, and Social Conflict: Fashioning Cultural Identity in Ancient Greece and Rome by Michael Proulx

Abstract: In the pre-Christian Greek and Roman world, decorative uses of color and personal adornment broadcast one’s status in the ever changing cultural mores of communal identity. Efforts by conservative forces to maintain traditional cultural markers apart from their perceived differences with eastern cultures proved unsuccessful.  Popular public consumption for colorful eastern styles, first in ancient Greece and then in the Roman world, overcame these voices of tradition in sometimes quite, spectacular, and confrontational ways. These evolving values of color use and personal adornment also created new meanings for old values for developing Christian notions of color and its association with sacred status. Archetypal use of white and black as positive and negative symbols were inverted in a remarkable way to create a new communal model of sanctity that embraced traditional markers of the demonic.

Bio: Dr. Michael Proulx ( is a specialist in Roman history at the University of North Georgia. His research examines the emergence of new forms of authority in the Roman imperial period. His publications include “Patres Orphanorum: Ambrose of Milan and the Construction of the Role of the Bishop,” in The Rhetoric of Power in Late Antiquity: Religion and Politics in Byzantium, Europe, and the Early Islamic World. Edited by Elizabeth DePalma Digeser, Robert M. Frakes, and Justin Stephens. London: Tauris Library of Classical Studies, 2010; “In the Shadow of Anthony: History and Hagiography in the Works of Sulpicius Severus and Paulinus of Milan.” Studia Patristica 39 (Leuven: Peeters Publishing, 2006): 423-429.


  • Color Symbolism in the Turko-Mongolian World by Timothy May

Abstract: Inner Asian history is replete with color qualifiers in describing states: the Kök or Blue Turks, the Golden Horde or Altan Orda, Kara Khitai or Black Khitai are but a few such entities. It is clear that color played an intrinsic role in Inner Asian society and one that is often overlooked or under appreciated by Western as well as Islamic and Sinitic societies. This is revealed in the primary sources as each civilization attempted to understand the Inner Asian societies that they encountered, whether it was the early Turks or the formidable power of the Mongol Empire. Yet, the non-Inner Asian powers framed the color descriptors according to their own cultural milieu which rarely, if ever, matched that of Inner Asian sensibilities. For some, we know their symbolic meaning. Gold was also the color of imperial authority, blue represented Tengri, the eternal sky. The association of Black with Khitai remains unknown, but this paper will advance some possibilities. In addition, this paper will explore the use of color hierarchies in Inner Asian Empires through time and space, considering use in among Turkic and Mongolian empires to indicate power and authority versus its use as a directional indicator.

Bio: Dr. Timothy May ( is Professor of Central Eurasian and Middle Eastern History at the University of North Georgia. He is also the author of The Mongol Art of War: Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Military System (2007); Culture and Customs of Mongolia (2009), and The Mongol Conquests in World History (2012).


  • Lawful Colors and Color of Law in Late Tudor England by Renee Bricker

Abstract: Color of law began as the literal vision of hues on the banners of feudal and royal court officials. By the sixteenth century, England’s authorities still boasted colorful banners, but color had long since made a shift from visible sign to speech, transformed from physical sensory perception to verbal signifier. When considering the actual experience of color, its flexibility and indeed its contingency become more apparent. Using color as a tool for historical analysis, this essay suggests, provides a means to reexamine, in fresh ways, familiar strategies used by the Elizabethan regime and its opponents functioned. As a conceptual point of departure, color compels closer scrutiny of the statutes of apparel that regulated materials for clothing and colors to stimulate questions of commerce, military, and hierarchies of authority. They also reveal the struggles for social stabilization in an increasingly changed polity. Apparel proclamations urged that people ought to be able to be identified by occupation at a glance. Color straddled a murky position of visual and linguistic economies with its apogee in the 1584 Bond of Association, drawing attention to the fresh insight that it achieved what it did in part because of its presentation and rhetorical strategies under color of law.

Bio: Renee Pilette Bricker ( is assistant professor of history at the University of North Georgia. Her research interests include those of identity, expressions of citizenship, loyalty and violence in early modern England. She is revising for publication a larger project that examines the role of violence as a mediator in shaping identity and creating loyalty in late Tudor England. She has published biographical sketches of early modern English women, and on Tudor social history.


  • From Dun to White: Forts, Power, and the Politics of Restoration in the United Arab Emirates by Victoria Hightower

Abstract: In the United Arab Emirates, forts play an important function in promoting heritage. This article examines the history of three iconic forts in the UAE—the Abu Dhabi Hosn, the Sharjah Hisn, and the al-Jahili fort in the city of Al Ain. Many of these forts were renovated to reflect a particular interpretation of the fort’s glory days. In the past 200 years, the forts’ colors have shifted significantly from the dun color of the surrounding sands to a pristine gypsum-based white and, in some cases, back to dun. In linking the forts’ histories to their present structures, this article argues that it is political expediency, rather than a commitment to faithfully reproducing the past that influenced restoration choices. Indeed, these restorations are just another in a long line of changes that these forts have undergone in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Bio: Victoria Hightower ( is an Assistant Professor of Middle East History at the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega campus. She graduated from Florida State University in 2011 with her doctorate in History and holds two Master’s Degrees in History (Florida State University 2004) and Near East Studies (University of Arizona, 2006). Her research focuses on the relationship between history and heritage in the United Arab Emirates and has published articles on pearls, sustainability, gender, and political power.


  • Colors of American Diplomacy by Christopher Jespersen


Color and Representation in Art and Literature


  •  Metachromatics: The Historical Division Between Color and Line/Form as Analytic by Robert Machado

Abstract: This chapter articulates an analytic for observing, measuring, contextualizing, recovering, and even re-purposing chromatic fields within and across a variety of media and disciplines. Drawing on recent strategies within visual culture studies, including postclassical narratology, this framework adapts the historical division in aesthetics between color, and line and form, to examine color’s differential status within verbal and visual expression and the social formations which its relations reflect, reinforce, or challenge. This enduring theoretical binarization—variously iterated and deployed at least since Antiquity—organizes an “inherent” opposition between color and line and form whose representation, by iconic analogy, has been used to assimilate and naturalize other binarically-construed ontologies, including identity formations, divisions of labor, and social hierarchies. In part because of its phenomenal instability, color within this discourse often functions as an especially receptive space into which constructions of non-figurability, alterity, abstraction, allusion, “essence,” and desire are projected and inscribed. Opposite the indexical line and form of early photography and early cinema before the rise of “natural color” processes (1839–1935), and the “line and form” of narrative according to dominant theories of narratology, chromatic additions can be seen exemplifying this function. This chapter tests the uses of this analytic within these media, and within considerations of intertexts and critical commentary.

Bio: Robert Machado ( is an Assistant Professor of English at Lebanon Valley College, PA, where he teaches courses in US literature, Film Studies, Interdisciplinary Arts, Writing, and Theory. His research involves the study of color across verbal and visual media, postclassical narrative theory, and 19/20-C US literature. He also has published work on early cinema and early photography, multimediality in literature, and the avant-garde. As an early member of the “lowercase sound” movement, since 2001 his experimental sound art under the name Civyiu Kkliu has been performed in galleries on the West and East Coast, and published in the US, the UK., the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria. His most recent art involves small format Polaroid photography, and monochrome noise.


  • Jean-Léon Gérôme and the Color of Flesh by Pamela Jane Sachant

 Abstract: This study explores the role and significance of women’s flesh tones in two works by Gérôme that exist in both sculpted and painted form, Pygmalion and Galatea and The Ball Player, within the cultural context of critical and popular responses to his life-like work. While highly representational images were both expected and prized in the official art world of nineteenth-century France, there were largely unspoken but culturally understood norms and boundaries within which illusionism was to function. Specifically in the realm of polychrome sculpture, responses ranged from that of art historian and critic Charles Blanc, who argued that white marble raised sculpture above the vagaries of the real, to poet Jules Laforgue, who believed that color united with form transcended the merely decorative. Gérôme’s work was both the epitome of the aesthetic ideals of the time and a transgression of social standards that equated the illusionism he sought with lesser or debased art forms. Gérôme’s use of color is key to understanding the expectations and limitations the artist worked within and consciously flaunted.

BioPamela Jane Sachant ( is Associate Professor of Art History and Head of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of North Georgia. Her research interests include American folk and self-taught art, especially the work of Texas artist Eddie Arning, and the work of George Seeley and F. Holland Day, photographers associated with the Pictorialist and Photo-Secession movements. Her current work in progress includes articles on J. Alexandre Skeete, who modeled for both Seeley and Day, and the 1940s Chinese portrait dolls of Vivian Dai.


  • “Whiteness” and Identity in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Michelle Cliff’s Abeng by April Conley Kilinski

 Abstract: Wide Sargasso Sea tells the story of Bertha Mason (the madwoman in Bronte’s Jane Eyre) in her own voice and in her childhood identity as Antoinette Cosway, a white Creole in Dominica. Abeng tells the story of Claire Savage, who like Antoinette, is from a wealthy, light skinned family in Jamaica. Straddling the lines of culturally constructed notions of race, Antoinette and Clare are intermediate characters who experience, in Patrick Hogan’s words, an “alienating hybridity.” And, despite the fact that both novels engage with politically significant moments in Jamaica’s history, Rhys’s character experiences her estrangement from white and black identity as a kind of personal tragedy. Cliff, on the other hand, reworks Clare’s hybridity for her empowerment through an understanding of history. I argue that in the same way that Wide Sargasso Sea intertextually engages the colonial novel Jane Eyre to give a voice to Bertha, Cliff’s novel intertextually engages Wide Sargasso Sea to show how complicity with colonial attitudes about race, and particularly whiteness, impede empowered identity. While Cliff’s novel posits a hope for resistance through an understanding of history, both narratives demonstrate that corporeal markers of race hinder fully integrated insider status in colonial/postcolonial countries damaged by hierarchical constructions of race.

BioApril Conley Kilinski ( is a Professor of English and Literature at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee. Trained at the University of Tennessee, her academic interests include Caribbean, African, African American, and Multiethnic literatures. She has recently published on Richard Wright’s Uncle Tom’s Children, and she has an article forthcoming, on Judith Ortiz Cofer’s short story, “By Love Betrayed.” 


Color in Contemporary Culture  


  • Pink is the New Green: Raising Little Shoppers from Birth by Amy Hagenrater-Gooding

AbstractPink, a color most associated with the feminine, might be more aptly correlated to green, or the color signifying monetary earning. From birth, girls are conditioned to respond to this color as an overt marker of the feminine and this indoctrination persists. Pink moves from a marker of girlhood and innocence into one of implicit sexuality and domestic property, and young women buy in. Consumer models seize on this identification and market everything from clothes and beauty products to cleaning supplies and household tools in various pink hues all to wrangle a hold on the female demographic. Further, much has been made of the “girl power” movement and the heralding of women’s seemingly unique health issues. Breast cancer awareness exploits the profit of pink by saturating the marketplace with pink ribbons and pink products (hair dryers, candy bars, clothing, etc.) with only a marginal portion going to any verifiable scientific research. This paper will explore how the use of pink as a color-coded signifier links women to the contrived feminine and manipulates that link as a money-making tool.

BioDr. Amy Hagenrater-Gooding ( is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore where she teaches courses in creative writing, poetry and drama. She obtained her Ph.D. in Literature and Criticism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she conducted research on masculine maternity and the subversion of gender roles through gender construction. She was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to study the use of MOOCs in the traditional classroom. She is currently working through another grant project at her home institution to establish a cross-curriculum reader to engage multiple disciplines and subjects and foster a collaborative learning environment. Her most recent project involved collaboration with the art department where students in her graphic novel class had the opportunity to team up with advanced art students and write, sketch, storyboard, and illustrate a portion of their own graphic novel.


  • Understanding Color, Race, and Identity through the (Body) Politics of Barack Obama by Celnisha L. Dangerfield

 Abstract: The body is a rhetorical artifact that sends and displays messages. Messages “read” from the body, like those obtained through observation of a person’s hair texture, lip size, and skin color, can have an impact on how that body is viewed—particularly in the United States. This chapter explores the meaning conveyed by the body when the skin color of one of the world’s most notable figures—President Barack Obama—is considered. In fact, as the nation’s first “president of color,” President Obama’s election serves as a litmus test of the United States’ racial progress since the days of slavery. To this end, a historical frame of reference is offered for the origin and continued use of skin color in the determination of a person’s race. Furthermore, the chapter allows for a comparison of the use of color in different contexts, and reveals how this comparison can result in the transfer of meaning between inanimate objects and people. Finally, a number of theoretical constructs (including the tenets of constructivism and identity negotiation) are applied to help explain why some people continue to use archaic notions of race, while others are able to move beyond long-held beliefs about skin color in a way that changes the negative images that are assigned to people of color in the United States.

Bio: Celnisha L. Dangerfield is a speech instructor at Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, GA. While her research broadly addresses issues of race and culture, it is specifically geared towards aspects of intercultural communication, African American communication, and identity negotiation. Ms. Dangerfield is a co-author of the journal article, “The face of crime: Viewers’ memory of race-related facial features of individuals pictured in the news” (Journal of Communication). Additionally, she has several book chapters to her credit including, “Lauryn Hill as lyricist and womanist,” (in Understanding African American rhetoric: Classical origins to contemporary innovations), and the co-authored chapter, “Defining Black masculinity as cultural property: Toward an identity negotiation paradigm” (originally published in Intercultural communication: A reader). Her most recent work—a chapter that explores the life of rapper/actor/activist Tupac Shakur—appears as a co-authored contribution to the text, Icons of hip hop: An encyclopedia of the movement, music, and culture.


  • Aversion to the Color Gray: The Monochromatic Nature of Turkish Domestic and Foreign Policy by Jonathan S. Miner

Abstract: This chapter explores the contradictions in Turkish domestic and foreign policy and its impact on the political and social unrest gripping Turkey since the summer of 2013. A content analysis of current news sources investigates current nationalist discourse and the direction of modern Turkish politics through an exploration of issues of secularism, religion in politics, social and constitutional changes and the roles of the judiciary, police, media and political parties in modern society. The study concludes that a contest among the various centers of power within the Sunni, Turkish majority restricts the development of an inclusive national identity and reflects a polarized political discourse discouraging societal inclusion and preventing a strengthening of democracy. This closed dialogue retains power within the Sunni Turkish majority and excludes the Kurdish, Alevi and Christian minorities whose participation is necessary to develop a tolerant, strong, rights-based society. Unless and until nationalist dialogue is open for participation to all Turks, unrest seen in the summer 2013 Gezi Park protests and 2014 political corruption scandal will continue and result in a domestic and foreign policy lacking in complexity and illustrated only by its lack of color and characterization as either black or white.

Bio: Jonathan Miner ( is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Georgia. Dr. Miner is a scholar of International Relations, specializing in United States Foreign Policy and Middle Eastern Politics. His dissertation, “Spokes of a wheel? Assessing combined efforts of government and civil society to stop terrorism in the United States, Indonesia, Turkey, Spain and Russia” was completed in 2007. 

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