Colour Specification, a Female Occupation….. Really?

I’ve never been particularly interested in gender traits and try to avoid stereotyping but someone made a comment to me last week that inspired me to do a little research around colour and gender.

I’m not talking about which colours males or females prefer – there is plenty written about this already, I was intrigued to read that throughout history, scholars have claimed that females respond to and feel colour more than their male counterparts.

However, when reading a little deeper on the subject, this theory seems to have stemmed or perhaps been reinforced by nineteenth century French art critics such as Charles Blanc who valued drawing skills over colour and as far as I can interpret,  assumed males to be the dominant sex and so ‘delegated’ colour which was of secondary importance in his eyes, to the female sex. In his book Grammaire du Dessin he writes, ‘drawing is the masculine gender of Art, colour its feminine one’ and goes on to state, ‘painting courts its own destructions and will be corrupted by colour as humanity was corrupted by Eve’ . Wow, strong opinions there then but on a positive note just shows how far we have moved on with regard to equal rights.

There are countless other texts written in a similar vein so I think it may help explain the comment made to me last week which triggered this research.

I was waiting in my local paint shop while the technician mixed my NCS paint colours. The very helpful and friendly manager popped out to chat to me and asked about my latest project. I told him I was specifying colour for a new restaurant and he responded, ‘ah, girly stuff then’. I don’t think he meant to be rude, and I  wasn’t offended, I was just curious that he perceived this type of work to be ‘girly’. If in the twenty first century, colour consultancy is perceived as a female domain, (and this comes as a surprise to me) could it really have just stemmed from sexism in the art world where colour was viewed as secondary to form and therefore dished out to the ‘weaker’ sex?

John Gage in his book, Colour and Meaning  highlights the fact that even the leading mid twentieth century German colour theorist Rupprecht Matthai actively left all judgements of colour harmony to his wife, again reinforcing the notion that colour somehow belongs in the female world. However, Gage also queries whether views on colour and gender may also have a biological as well as cultural basis. He refers to the work of M.Sahlins, ‘Colour and Cultures’,  where it was found that colour defective vision is nearly one hundred times more common among white males than among white females.

I think wherever our views derive from about colour and gender, they all need to be taken with a large pinch of salt. I certainly know many expert males and females working in colour specification so once again, I think I will steer away from any form of stereotyping and assume that there are talented people from both genders working in the fascinating and powerful world of colour.