What Giacometti’s Obsession With the Color Gray Really Meant

When the Sculptor Turned to Painting, His Palette Expressed His Existential Yearnings

The Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) is best-known for his lean, elongated sculptures that grew progressively taller and thinner over the course of his oeuvre. His lesser-known painted portraits, like the sculpted figures, reflect his fascination with the relationship between the human body and space. And, interestingly, that space is typically painted gray. The gray worlds of the portraits are as important as the faces and bodies of Annette, Caroline, Diego, and all of the other relatives, friends, lovers, and acquaintances who appear in Giacometti’s paintings. If we give Giacometti’s …

This Color Can Be Dirty, Deceptive—and Divine

Cloth to Computers, Blue's Rich History Keeps Multiplying Its Meanings

The meaning of blue lies in its contradictions.

The color is associated with introversion and introspection, but it’s also associated with the expansiveness and openness of oceans and skies. It’s …

The Bug That Had the World Seeing Red

How a Mesoamerican Insect Created the Globe's Most Coveted Color

Once there was a color so valuable that emperors and conquistadors coveted it, and so did kings and cardinals. Artists went wild over it. Pirates ransacked ships for …

Why Ansel Adams Made His Black Even Blacker

The Photographer Projected a More Perfect Union by Taking Artistic Liberty With His Yosemite Landscapes

Ansel Adams’ Half Dome, Blowing Snow, Yosemite National Park, is a classic landscape photograph, one that draws upon decades of dramatic imagery touting the far West as the ultimate expression …

Black and White Aren’t Opposites After All

Neuroscientists Are Still Cracking the Puzzle of Why Our Brains Process Light and Darkness Asymmetrically

Most people see the world in color, yet artists can conjure up whole worlds—both realistic and imaginary—by using black pigments on white paper. Our ability to understand these drawings suggests …

Even in Deep Space, There Are Shades of Black

How a Planet Hunter Finds Faint Objects in a Sea of Darkness

In my line of work, I stare at shades of black.

My work starts on dark, black nights, when there is no moon or reflection from it. The telescopes I …