Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Color Uncovered Is Wildly Insightful

Although the release of iBooks 2 textbooks (selling 350,000 textbooks in three days) stole some thunder from recently released educational applications, it's impossible to ignore Color Uncovered from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. Its recently released educational app is wild, beautiful, and free.

The subject is color. And while designed with children in mind, the program can easily be considered a must have for artists and photographers — especially those who haven't studied color, light, and pigments. Color Uncovered presents just under 20 exhibits similar to those that you might see at Exploratorium stations except they are beautifully recast for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.

The hero shot is the first exhibit, featuring an optical illusion that helps demonstrates how the brain fills in shapes that it expects to see rather than what is actually there. The faint blue square you see, for example, is absolute fiction.

The interactive experiments capture attention, but how you apply it counts.

Most reviews have touted it as an educational tool, mostly for children. The assessment comes from the interactive feature included on the page. Each of the circles can be pulled outward, disrupting the pattern. It's fun, even if it could be more than that.

Depending on how you apply the lesson, different ideas emerge. Someone who is science minded might consider the theory that the optical illusion is a latent ability that once helped us see faint outlines underwater.

The artist, designer, or photographer might take away something else. Paintings or photographs could impart entirely different meanings by taking in what our brains are all too ready to see. While not necessarily new on its own, there are more mini exhibitions to explore, including a better understanding of Claude Monet.

The French impressionist had more than light in his eyes.

While many people are familiar with the the French impressionist's paintings, especially Water Lilies, there is more to the story than being included in exhibitions for breaking with tradition. According to Color Uncovered, Monet could see and frequently painted patterns and colors to include the ultraviolet spectrum.

He acquired the ability late in his career after he developed cataracts that dulled his vision. In 1923, he underwent surgery to have them removed. The unexpected result was allowing him to see the ultraviolet spectrum, which a normal lens is equipped to filter out. In other words, water lilies look white for most people but Monet saw them how he painted them — pale blue with vibrant patterns.

A cross sampling of color exhibits within Color Uncovered.

The application presents dozens of optical illusions, most of which are interactive or ask for specific participation to make the optical illusions work. Don't be surprised to recognize a few if you've sought out optical illusions before. Where Color Uncovered shines is in the explanation.

Your eyes will make spots disappear, imagine colors that don't exist within the pigments used, demonstrate how the mind is attracted to luminance, or how color saturation can seem fleeting. One of the most striking (even if you've seen it before) is how the brain can colorize a photo based on nothing more than color negatives. The effect only lasts a second, but the artist's application is mind bending.

Of course, not all of the screen exhibits are about how we see things. Sometimes they are about how things are. As most designers know, computer screens only use three colors. As most photographers know, incandescent lights add more reds and halogen lamps emit more blues. Or as only people in the tropic might know, oranges are really green unless they've been treated with ethylene gas or blasted by cold.

All in all, the app is light on content in that it can be digested in the quick span of half an hour, maybe an hour if you are really concentrating on each experiment (and watch all of the videos included in the Shades of Meaning, which is the least grabbing of every thread).

However, just because the app is 17 exhibits today, that doesn't mean it will have 17 exhibits tomorrow. The Exploratorium originally launched the app with 11 pages. The additional exhibits were added as an update.

Color Uncovered By The Exploratorium Surprises At 5.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As a free education application, the Exploratorium has put together a great starting set for anyone interested in light, color, science, and perception. The physical Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception with hundreds of explore-for-yourself exhibits. The museum will be moving to the San Francisco's historic waterfront in 2013.

You can find Color Uncovered for free on iTunes. You can also learn more about the Exploratorium  on its website. For those interested in the work of Claude Monet, we found a surprising collection of printsmuseum prints, and canvas prints at Barewalls (including Water Lilies). Just search for his name.
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