Display Case, Rare Books

Interaction of Color

Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color is a masterwork of twentieth-century graphic design and color studies. Originally published by Yale University Press in 1963 as a limited silkscreen edition with 150 plates, the book has remained in print ever since.  It is one of the most influential resources for generations of students and designers.

The most recent paperback edition of Interaction of Color, from 2006.

The most recent paperback edition of Interaction of Color, from 2006.

The German-born Albers (1888-1976) was a student at the Bauhaus in 1920 and began teaching in the school’s department of design in 1922.  In 1925 he was promoted to professor.   With the closure of the Bauhaus by the Nazis in 1933, Albers emigrated to the United States and joined the faculty of Black Mountain College in North Carolina where his students included  Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.  In 1950 Albers left Black Mountain College to head the Department of Design at Yale University, retiring in 1958.

Albers maintained that he was not presenting any new theory on color, only modifying the traditional approach to studying it.  He states, “In my color book, there is no new theory of color.  But, in it, there is a way to learn to see.”  The slim volume that accompanies the  plates is succinctly written yet, many times, his quotes are poetic, and sometimes humorous statements on color theory.

“Color is fooling us all the  time.  All the time, like women do, you see, life is interesting.”

Twenty-six relatively short chapters, such as “Color recollection-visual memory,” “Color mixture in paper—illusion of transparence,” and “From color temperature to humidity in color” comprise the text.  Albers offers interesting commentary on color theory as noted in his observation on the color red.

“Even when a certain color is specified which all listeners have seen innumerable times – such as the red of the Coca-Cola signs which is the same red all over the country—they will still think of many different reds.”

When the Interaction of Color was published in 1963, it was highly praised by most critics.  Occasionally, the response to the book was far from laudatory.  The artist Donald Judd, writing in Arts Magazine, called Interaction of Color “primarily pedagogical.” Arthur Carp, writing in the journal Leonardo, wrote, “one doubts if Albers is being helpful, would that he were less of a dilettante.”  In spite of the stinging criticism, the book has become a venerable classic..  Albers approach to color theory was, and remains, groundbreaking and revolutionary.

Several silkscreen plates are on display in the reference room from the Ingalls Library rare book collection.