day 3

… think not so much of something ‘being’ a colour but of it ‘doing’ a colour.  The atoms in a ripe tomato are busy shivering – or dancing or singing; the metaphors can be as joyful as the colours they describe – in such a way that when the white light falls on them they absorb most of the blue and yellow light and they reject the red – meaning paradoxically that the ‘red’ tomato is actually one that contains every wavelength except red.  A week before, those atoms would have been doing a slightly different dance …

from Colour: Travels through the Paintbox, Victoria Finlay (6)

Earlier this year I was brought up short by an advent for Gudrun clothes: 

‘Be the colour in colourful’ 

it urged me.  What colour was I being in that moment?  What colour am I projecting to others as I write this sentence?  To use Victoria Finlay’s metaphor, are my atoms shivering vibrantly?

I hope to explore the visceral connections between joy, light and sight this Advent, and particularly to concentrate on how an internal commitment to being joyful – and thus colourful – might affect my doing colour in the lives of others.  For designer Ingrid Fettell Lee, colour is a happening which directly affects our ability to feel joy:

When I studied color and its effect on joy, I wondered: Why is there such a gap between the colors that enliven us, and the colors that surround us?  “Chromophobia,” was the immediate answer I received … Why are people scared of color? “It’s the fear of making a choice,” said an architect. “Of making a mistake and having to live with it.” … Why are there so many chromophobes out there? I think it’s because there’s a cultural bias against color. We’ve come to dismiss color and joy as childish and frivolous, prizing neutral hues as a mark of coolness and mature taste. That belief has left us in a place where we feel almost ashamed to have color in our lives.  I’ve spent the last decade studying joy. From the beginning, it was clear that the liveliest places and things all had one thing in common: bright, vivid color… The human eye is adept at distinguishing between subtly different colors; scientists estimate we can see as many as seven million distinct shades… While we think of color as an attribute, really it’s a happening: a constantly occurring dance between light and matter… Ultimately, creating colors that enliven us is about increasing the activity of these vibrating little particles in a space. Bright colors animate the light that shines on them, reflecting it around a space and magnifying its effect… Once, when [architects] Stamberg and Aferiat were stuck on choosing a color for a house they were designing, they turned to a good friend, painter David Hockney. He said, “Do what I do whenever I have a color problem. Look at Matisse.”

from Joyful: The Surprising Power of Extraordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness, Ingrid Fetell Lee

I wonder, do I have a colour problem?

Could I be colour, be joy; do colour, do joy?

How might this change my seeing God in my here and now this Advent?

Our feeling of being ill at ease in the world… signals our longing to share in that flow of blessing, to experience God’s spirit in true enthusiasm, to feel that joie de vivre that is not just a passing mood.

Brother David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence (68)

transitioning colours. iPhone image.

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

3 thoughts on “day 3

  1. Lovely reflection. Thank you. I do lots of mixed media art and love strong vibrant colour because of the joy I feel. I live in Toronto where most of the new buildings are grey, not a deep shade of grey, or a dappled mixture of greys, just plain light grey. During winter, with grey skies and sometimes with added snow like today, I feel caste into a mono-chromatic world of grey that saps life and energy. I need to be intentional about finding colour, and joy. Thanks for the reminder.


    1. Hi Abigail, thanks for this – I too, spent much time feeling like a cast-away in a sea of blank grey – until I made an intentional exploration into it through creativity – I will send you a private link to my #projectgrey and see if it might be a way through for you – especially as a mixed media artist. All blessings.


  2. An insightful, inspiring reflection, Kate. Having read Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book about joy, I can see how differently I respond to various shades of colour and react most positively to the deep, vibrant and bright. I think I need more of those hues in my home and my life! Joy can definitely be boosted by such things. May you know that any particular shade and hue you might define yourself as being now is fluid, flexible, and subject to change. I need to remind myself of that when I get caught in a 50 shades of grey downcast mentality and fail to sense the rosy hues that surround me. Blessings of Advent hope and joy to you, my friend. xo 💜


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